Saturday, January 04, 2014
***The Life And Times Of Michael Philip Marlin, Private Investigator- A Piece Of Work
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman-with kudos to Raymond Chandler
Those who have been following this series about the exploits of the famous Ocean City (located just south of Los Angeles then now incorporated into the county) private detective Michael Philip Marlin (hereafter just Marlin the way everybody, except a few lady friends who called him Philip and his late mother who called him Michael Philip, called him when he became famous after the Galton case out on the coast) and his contemporaries in the private detection business like Freddy Vance, Charles Nicolas (okay, okay Clara too), Sam Archer, Miles Spade, Johnny Spain, know that he related many of these stories to his son, Tyrone Fallon, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Tyrone later, in the 1970s, related these stories at his request to the journalist Joshua Lawrence Breslin who uncovered the relationship, a friend of my boyhood friend, Peter Paul Markin, who in turn related them to me over several weeks in the late 1980s. Despite that circuitous route I believe that I have been faithful to what Marlin presented to his son. In any case I take full responsibility for what follows.
Yah, that Teddy Landers was a piece of work alright, a guy from Yonkers or some place near New York City, he was always changing up what town he was from but he was always from the tough end sections of those towns, so he had to be tough, city street smarts tough. A guy, a film director, you know, Robert Ashland, yes, that Robert Ashland, the one who did The Choice, Close Call, and Cry, The City and a bunch of other tough guy films and grabbed a fistful of awards too, wanted to do a film adaptation of Teddy’s life. The brash kid growing up in troubled circumstances before the war, the heroic war record including stints as a “pre-mature anti-fascist” fighting in one of the International Brigades in Spain and later as a commando and SS prisoner in the war, war wounds, hanging around Vegas with war buddies, now connected war buddies who used him as a mule to launder money down Mexico way, then landing square on his feet marrying money, serious money, when he bedded and wedded the wild child Sarah Wyatt all wrapped around a good-looking guy whose war wounds only enhanced those good looks. There was talk, serious talk of Brando or Newman as the lead, and Audrey Hepburn as Sarah. There was even, at Teddy’s insistence, a walk-on part for Marlin as Teddy’s new found side-kick and confidante about two- thirds of the way through the film to show what a regular guy he was, you know, mixing with tough guys and holding his own in the city’s plebeian bars. The money, the backing was there, an outline of a script was there, this was no come-on like a lot of Hollywood film ideas that wind up out on some back lot floor gathering dust. So, yes, Ashland wanted to do the film, needed to after a couple of crash and burn non-descript items that did not increase that fistful of awards on his fireplace. That is he wanted to do that film until one night Teddy took off, took off with a small suitcase and a satchel full of cash (cocaine too but the amount was unknown was never known so let’s just stick with that bucket of cash) and left no forwarding address, left a lot of people in the lurch including one Michael Philip Marlin.
Yah, Teddy Landers who also knew all the angels, good and bad liking the bad if he was to call a preference, knew some French women in Europe after the war who taught his some interesting sex tips that stood him in good stead when he found Hollywood, and later found the decadent Sarah. Knew, knew well, half the hookers, call girls, street tricks and courtesans in Vegas before he split to the coast (and, yes, there were, are, courtesan in bright light neon Vegas but you won’t see them in the tourist brochures, you have to be connected, very connected to even know that such sexual delights could be found there, otherwise make your choice from the hookers, call girls and tricks. Knew some savage junkie women in London who put him onto the whole black market set-up for a few bindles of junk, H, you know heroin, and then left them flat. Knew a Yonkers girl too back when he was just brash who wouldn’t tumble, wouldn’t give him what he wanted, and so he blew her off and who later was shot by her angry husband but every day (according to Marlin) he kicked himself for doing so. But good girl or bad girl he attracted the angels like moths to the light.
He knew all the angles too, had run a “clip” gang (you know kids, and it was only kids no serious professional would risk his career for a few baubles worth jack, hitting jewelry, department , and record stores and grabbing everything not nailed down then selling it cheap, maybe called “five-finger discount” around your way. Hell, I did it myself for a while around my old hometown) and one night pulled a “robbery” grabbing all the cash in the kitty to take some twist somewhere. Strictly kids’ stuff though, a little ejack-rolling of drunks, midnight auto stuff, light drug dealing, until Europe, Europe and black markets and dough (remember he stiffed those street hooker London bindle freaks). Europe and war buddy connections that would pan out when he blew Yonkers and headed west for a change of scenery.
So Teddy knew how to cut corners on both, knew how to use his attraction for women, certain kinds of women with a wild streak, a desire to take a step over the edge and see what that side looked like, and decidedly not goody women, not at least since that first long flickered out flame back in his boyish days and knew too, by training if not by instinct how to fend for himself, how to make the other guy take the fall, knew how to grab the money and run, knew also you needed protectors in this wicked old world and was not choosey about who that was, know who to cut those corners more than one way too as Marlin found out, found out, later. And Marlin joined the line, the long line of gals and guys, high class dames, high-class call girls, high-end rollers and low-down gangsters, who got used by Teddy, got used and still liked the guy, or at least wished him no harm.
Marlin had met him in a bar, Shorty’s, the original Shorty’s over off Wiltshire just short of the Los Angeles line in Ocean City to set your geography straight, although most of the clientele in those days came from the city, down the street from his apartment building. Shorty’s the bar that he had make famous, or infamous as the case may be depending on whether you like the coppers to see public justice done or are rooting for the guys like Marlin who for cheap dough, a few knocks on the head or a stray bullet chase after windmills, in the Baxter case. The bizarre one that you might have heard of where an old time Los Angeles king hell fixer, Richard Baxter, took a fall, a fatal fall, all because a guy got shot by another guy right in Shorty’s over a decade before, just before the war in Europe got up a head of steam. Shorty, now a prosperous owner of several watering holes, including the Club Arriba over on Central Avenue in the city, once he knew whose palms to grease and who to seek “protection” from, liked Marlin’s presence as a crowd-drawer and for the favor his drinks were on the house. Marlin, in the chips or not, never turned down a drink, scotch especially, from friend or foe so the place was his regular hang-out
It had been a slow Monday late afternoon when Teddy walked in, sat down beside Marlin, and ordered a scotch bright, scotch, high-end MacDonald Brother scotch in his case, with a kick of Bacardi, a drink that the guys who had come back from overseas brought back with them. More importantly that was Marlin’s drink of choice at that moment (although he had been too old to serve in World War II he had seen service with the American Expeditionary Force in World War I and had picked up the scotch bright taste from some ex-soldiers who hung around the Kit-Kat Club, a big hang-out for homecoming West Coast ex-soldiers, sailors and marines). He off-handedly commented on their similar tastes and Teddy told him about how he had acquired the taste in London during the war. Teddy, a friendly guy anyway as long as he was not crossed, not looking for something from somebody and got turned down or was in his cups was in a talkative mood, and maybe sensed that Marlin was a guy who he could talk to and he continued on, ordering another scotch bright, and one for Marlin too.
And so Teddy and Marlin talked, talked about the drink and its origins, talked about the bewildering variety and types of scotch whiskeys from the Highlands, talked about the late war and the wounds that Teddy had sustained which were still visible in the light although fading, talked about the craziness of Los Angeles lately although Marlin could tell Teddy was neither native nor had he gone native getting a deep tan, wearing sporty clothes and generally acting like he didn’t have a care in the world, talked about the scads of kids coming to Ocean City to surf, surf for chrissakes, the hard boys from the valley who were driving their soup-up hot rods up and down the Pacific Coast Highway like they owned it and the Okies and Arkies coming out of the woodwork once they heard that California was a Garden of Eden, talked about the big migrations from the east after the war that had stretched the place to the limit and they were still coming, and about this and that, guy stuff, manly guy stuff.
Every few days, maybe every week or so, they would run into each other at Shorty’s, Teddy always parking his ride, his shining dark green Jaguar courtesy of wife Laura (who insisted that the old Hudson that he had been driving around in when they met, and which he had tenderly kept in top condition, was too plebeian, and what would the help say if he was driving a car they might own so he grabbed the most expensive damn automobile he could find and, damn, she didn’t flinch), right out in front helter-skelter depending on how heavily he had been drinking, and discuss stuff, guy stuff, mostly. Teddy doing the talking, fast-talking with a little edge, with a little larceny, wise-guy, angle-cutting edge to it, and Marlin served as the listening post. Eventually he would have Teddy over to his place after the bar closed for a nightcap, many nights for Teddy to sleep it off on Marlin’s couch as well.
A lot of what Teddy would talk about was how tough it was being married for the past five years to money, big money, married to the Wyatt fortune, or part of it, the Laura Wyatt part of it. That was old California money, old meaning built by grabbing water rights back in the 1920s, getting in on the ground floor of the oil boom around the LaBrea tar pits and whatever else old Leslie Wyatt could grab that was not tied down. This Wyatt a real bastard Marlin had heard but a real lamb to his kids, especially Laura who early on was wild, just as wild as plenty of money would go. Teddy could take the money part, take it easily with both hands out having grown up poor, dirt poor in Yonkers before the war. But the way they, Laura, the old man, and their Mayfair swell friends made him feel like cheap street left ashes in his mouth. That was one angle he had not figured out he told Marlin one drunken night, not yet.
Worse this Laura was nothing but a tramp picking up every fly-by-night guy she took a momentary fancy too, bringing him home, or rather to her “guest house” away from their main home, their mansion where she might be holed up for a few days before coming up for air (that place bought, every tile and nail bought, by Leslie Wyatt when Laura purred in his ear that they needed suitable digs for entertaining, and she had had the guest house built once she told Teddy that she needed her “own space”). Hell, Teddy would say, after he had had his seventh drink, maybe more, that he really should have had no kick about Laura’s style since he had met her at one of her Malibu parties which he crashed with a friend and he had spent his own few days in her “guest house” at the old man’s mansion. After they came up for air a few days thereafter they were married, a lark for her, she said all her friends were married and she should be too. Christ, now that he thought about it, although it easy street and shiny objects for him, it still bothered him, bothered him that she was so open like only the rich could be with her minute affairs. And so Teddy, Teddy the trophy war-hero (he had been a “premature anti-fascist” fighting in the Spanish Civil War in an International Brigade unit although more for the three squares and some dough than any political allegiance and later as a volunteer commando with the British when Europe heated up, and where he was severely wounded on a secret mission) began to fall off the leash.
Teddy the reclamation project too (Laura made it clear she was taking a poor kid from the streets and giving him dough, a car and some manners, public manners anyway), began to lead his own life, began to play around, play around with a loose country club set woman or two who was dissatisfied with her husband or who just liked to play around in that insular little world of 1950s Malibu, Malibu before all the riff-raff and hang- ten surfers came through. Thereafter he began to drink heavily (and grab a few lines of off-hand cocaine if it was laying around), began to drink himself into a stupor to ease the pain, the pain of his youthful wants, his very real war wounds, and his store –bought social wounds. After a while, after a few months of talk, couches, and drunks Marlin considered Terry a friend, a rare distinction for a lone- wolf private detective. And Teddy considered Marlin a friend too.
So it was no big deal when Teddy came up to Marlin’s apartment one midnight several months after they met, drunk, frazzled, a little shaky and asked Marlin to drive him to Mexico, dusty, tin cup, anything goes, anything goes if you have the dough, anything, Tijuana, faux Mexico Tijuana, just over the border, to think things out, undisclosed things. Teddy in high dudgeon wanted no questions asked and once Marlin accepted that condition, actually had thought nothing of the request except the direction, the trip down south was unusual, previous requests had been to places north of L.A. to see some woman (his latest one, whom Marlin had not met, lived up in Malibu in the same colony as the Lander’s estate) or to drive him home, he bought the ticket and gave him that ride.
A fateful ride that would cost Marlin a few days in the slammer for aiding a felon after the fact since what Teddy was thinking things out about down in sweaty, sunny Mexico was the brutal murder of his wife. Laura was found naked in her guest house, battered, blood all over the place, by one of her maids the next morning and who immediately reported the discovery to the sheriff’s office. Once the coppers tied Marlin to Teddy’s disappearance they pounced on him, and it wasn’t hard because Marlin had not tried to hide his tracks, all he had asked of Teddy was to say to him nothing, nothing at all about what bothered him once he agreed to take him south sensing something very illegal was afoot although he thought Teddy was running from his gangster war buddies, or some busted drug deal he was acting as intermediary for. The coppers gave it to Marlin strong, gave him the full-press third-degree under the bright lights, all night, the whole good cop, bad cop routine, the confess and we’ll go easy on you, have a cigarette and think it over, like he was that easy to turn over. Yah, all the little tricks they liked to play, things they liked to do that they have seen on television or in some old time film noir, maybe a B-Robert Ashland film, things they liked to do anytime they got a private dick in their clutches. Especially Marlin who had twisted their noses on the Sternwood case (the time he rounded up Eddie Miles, the big gangster, and put a big bow around his neck to help an old man rest in peace a little after his daughters went wild on him) and the Trepper case(where he exposed a murderous psychopathic crooked cop hung up on a redhead, a married redhead who had a funny habit of cheating on him, the cop not the husband), made them look foolish, a few years before.
Then just as quickly Marlin was sprung from jail without an explanation. No, that is not right, there was no more case since Teddy had saved everybody a lot of trouble and committed suicide, leaving an incriminating note. So long Teddy, end of story. No, no again, Marlin was not buying the whole set-up both because he did not believe that Teddy could have brutally murdered his wife no matter how much he hated her tramp ways and her snobbery and that high-end life they led and because Teddy just didn’t seem the suicide type, didn’t appear that distraught when he left him off at the border. Marlin figured that he could not have stayed in his chosen profession very long if he was not able to take the measure of a man, could not size him up, could not have a grip on what made him tick, and what didn’t. No, with all his sorrows, all his hurts, all his baggage from his youth Teddy was made of tougher stuff.
But there was nothing Marlin could do about checking further having been warned off the case by Laura’s father who wanted the thing closed, closed tight, so he could maintain his privacy, keep the case off the front page so that his country club set would have nothing to titter about behind his back. Told all this not directly by the old man, the help was not handled that way in that orbit, but by Wyatt’s lawyer, naturally. And since the old man drew a lot of water downtown he was prepared to make life tough for one Michael Philip Marlin.
Had been warned off too by a couple of Teddy’s old friends and war buddies, Mendy and Randy (no last names but Vegas-connected and thus connected enough for Marlin), whom Teddy had worked for before he hit pay-dirt with Laura and who were also then very prominent mobsters with connections back East. They three while playing heroic commandos also took care of their respective number ones by working the black markets of half the countries in Europe. Skills that were useful at home when the hard boys of New York and later, the West Coast when operations shifted there took notice. Not heeding such warnings from hard guys, guys who had cut their teeth in the cutthroat black markets of wartime Europe, were in on the ground floor when the fight over who, or who would not, run Vegas, and who would think nothing of sending some, what did Mendy call him, oh yeah, some two-bit gumshoe, down some secluded ravine face down was not good for business.
And then there were the cops, the cops responding to pressure from downtown (who were responding to pressure from the old man and his crowded court of cronies), their own dislike for Marlin and his profession, and their own sense of power who said in no uncertain terms the case was shut, shut tight. So although Teddy’s fate gnawed at him Marlin backed off, backed off for a while, although not because some high-priced lawyer, some two-bit soft guy Vegas hoods, or some on- the- take cops said to but because he was broke and needed to make some dough, needed to make office and room rent.
With Teddy still in the back of his mind Marlin grabbed his next case, the Waits case, the case of a famous abusive drunken pot-boiler historical novel writer, Roger Waits. Everybody, even Marlin, had heard of Waits of course, the sword and busted bodice novel guy whose books you would see at the check-out counters at supermarkets and who sex-hungry housewives read to while away those lonely hours out in suburbia, out in Levittown, out in Irvine. He had gone missing for a week or more and his wife, Eileen, was desperately trying to find him and bring him back to their oceanfront Malibu home.
Here is where Teddy, or rather Marlin’s stand-up shut- up guy defense of Teddy, got him the job since Mrs. Waits had read about Marlin in the newspapers when he was in custody as a material witness and grabbing the third degree and decided he was the man to find her errant husband. Marlin finally seeing some dough, easy dough, on the horizon and the back of his landlords’ heads took the case and in a short time was able to find old Roger holed up trying to dry out (again) in a sanatorium. Marlin brought him home to his ever-loving wife and that was that. End of story.
No, again no, Roger had taken a liking to Marlin, wanted to hire him to protect him against his demons, real and imagined, but Marlin said no deal. He was not a baby-sitter, or man-servant, which is what was required. What might have changed his mind, if anything, though was this Eileen Waits, Roger’s trophy wife, whose slim figure, faraway blue eyes, wistful expression, and slight whiff of perfume, gardenia something, had him thinking about silky sheets and sultry bedroom afternoons. But that was not to be, although not for his lack of trying, giving her very definite signals. What happened to forestall that possibility was not that not long after he had gotten Roger home, dried out for a while, he started drinking again, and started to be haunted by his demons. One day Roger in some drunken rage, or drunken stupor, shot himself, committed suicide. Marlin wasn’t buying that one either since Waits, whatever his writer’s block, whatever feelings he had that he was washed up, a has been, was not a suicide guy. Marlin now had to dig into this one if for no other reason than surrounded by two suicides in short order he had to get out from under the tag of a guy to not be around if you cared about your health, or your life.
Things were a mess until Marlin stepped back and put a couple things together. First off the Waits knew the Wyatts, father and daughters, travelled in some of the same circles out in Malibu, and had been to some of the same charity events and the like. That information came out by accident when the cops were investigating Roger’s suicide. Without too much trouble he also found out that Laura Wyatt had numbered Roger Waits as one of her trophies. And that set up everything else once Roger’s houseboy gave Marlin enough information about Mrs. Waits and her strange nocturnal habits, her vague longing for some soldier boy first love long gone that she had married before Roger habits. Not so long gone though since that soldier boy she pined away for was one Teddy Landers (although they had been married with him using a different name in London during the war).
Eileen Waits enraged that the tramp Laura had taken her first man, long thought to be dead after some secret raid in Norway, enraged that he had become nothing but a degenerate kept pet by Laura and enraged that she had also taken her second man and flouted that fact making no attempt to conceal the affair or their guest house love-making murdered both of them. Although no jury would had convicted her even if the D.A. decided to try the case. A beautiful, disturbed (and wealthy) widow was not the kind of murder case that would sail in celebrity-conscious Los Angeles in the hush-hush 1950s. And that case would not be tried because Laura’s father, that couple of Vegas-connected hoods, and the on-the-take cops had closed the case previously, closed it up tight. And that is the end of the story.
Well not quite. Something still did not add up, especially the role of those two hoods, war buddies or not, going way out of their way to shut the case down, to warn Marlin off. So he again stepped back and what he figured out was that no way, no way on this good green earth did Teddy Landers die in Mexico. The whole thing was fixed, fixed by Terry and the boys. And the way Marlin found that out was simple, simplicity itself, Landers, disguised as a Mexican, showed up at his door one day and flaunted that hard fact in Marlin's face. Then he walked away. And Marlin for his own reasons, for an old friendship gone awry, let him. Yeah, that Teddy Landers was a piece of work. End of story.