Thursday, January 02, 2014

***The Life And Times Of Michael Philip Marlin, Private Investigator- In The Time Of Red Wind


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 (just below Los Angeles) private detective Michael Philip Marlin (hereafter just Marlin the way everybody except a few lady friends called him when he became famous out on the coast) and his contemporaries in the private detection business like Philo Vance, Nick Charles (okay, okay Nora too), Sam Arch, Miles Sparrow, 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, 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.        

This is the way Michael Philip Marlin told the story one night, one windy late 1950s night, an October 1958 night to be exact, a night that spoke of some impending red winds coming and reminded him of another 1930s foul red wind night, a night to remember…

Old sailors, old tars who have roamed all the seas, seven at last count, but especially the China seas, who have been in every port from Singapore to Seattle, been in every port gin mill from London to Lapland, every high and low whorehouse from New York to the Netherlands, and every greasy- spoon from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon claim that the red wind, a California wind coming from the land means nothing but trouble, trouble with a big T.

Of course those old seaman assume all their troubles are land-bound but that is a separate question. Their take is this, and maybe they are right, that those red winds, the winds coming out of some Santa Ana enclave make people jittery, claim that the red wind, a blood red wind coming from the land not that blue- pink goodnight ocean sky wind make them nervous, make them ready to do each and every thing right up to murder if need be, that they would not dream of doing in calmer times. Make Walter Mitty-types feisty ready to give hell and brimstone class- war to their bosses (in their dreams anyway), make docile children rise up like Cain slayed Abel (and create mother pick-up messes worthy of such titanic struggles), make sweet mother home-makers reach for some rolling pin to level a miscreant, fill- in- the- blank. Make a woman practice with her trigger finger maybe at that same fill-in-the-blank. Just in case.

Michael Philip Marlin, the tough old gumshoe, the seedy, has-been private eye, the shamus, down on his luck for a moment at the time   found reason to believe those old seadogs were on to something when the winds, the red winds, no question, blew across the city of angels, disrupted the old time Los Angeles night, his night, one October week back in 1939, back before the war made the whole town crazy with or without winds. That ill-wind, that hell wind seemingly from the bowels of the earth made the citizenry of the city of angels, L.A. town, do screwy foul things right up to and including murder.

Yes Marlin the private investigator who was the talk of the town back in 1933 when he single-handedly solved, no, resolved what everybody in Los Angeles, Hollywood at least, called the Galton case, the big kidnapping/ransom case involving the big time producer Jack Galton’s teenage daughter. Marlin had clamped down, clamped down hard, on Manny Huber and his gang’s scam of doing such random kidnappings, grabbing the dough (sometimes splitting it with the so-called victims in those cases where he or she was in the scam for whatever reason, usually just the dough), and then blowing town for a while. Of course the victim, or rather the victim’s family paid up, paid up big to keep that scandal out of the public eye, that hard fact of being suckered by some two-bit hoods stuff.

Jack Galton was made of tougher stuff, didn’t know how to fold, grabbed Marlin when he was in his prime and Marlin wrapped the case  up fast by putting the squeeze on one of  Huber’s gang and getting the daughter back unharmed, although dazed and drugged, and no ransom paid. That ended that scam in the Hollywood hills for good. But it also opened, courtesy of a grateful Jack Galton, a streak of starlets at Marlin’s beck and call, including a young Fiona Fallon, later the great femme fatale actress, and plenty of soft touch private eye work for a couple of years until Jack’s luck ran out like it often did in Hollywood  and his operations folded. After that Marlin had been living on cheap street, a small job here and there, not enough to keep up the old office downtown, now he was down on the low-rent end of Wiltshire in the Shell Building with the failed dentists, blustery insurance scammers and seedy repo- men. Same situation with his apartment now down on the low end of Bunker Hill, down with rooming house winos and jetsam coming from the east to paradise. And that was how things stood that night when the red winds came, came and dusted everything and everybody with the mal suerte                    

Hell, when Marlin thought about it later, who would have thought that going out for a few cold ones, a few brews, maybe a quick shot of low- shelf whiskey to keep the devils away, all to take the dust off the night at a newly opened corner bar in the neighborhood, Shorty’s, across the street from the place where Marlin called home would lead to murder. He had sat there that night minding his own business nursing his second beer, listening to the sad-eyed tunes coming from the radio in back of the bartender/owner Shorty (who else) when this saggy middle- aged guy named Warden came in, came in looking for a dame.

No, not some bar girl or some street tart like you might think, the place was too new to have drawn those types or guys who were looking for those types either which was the same thing, and besides Shorty hadn’t paid the cops dime one to cater to that trade.  Warden was looking for,   from his close description of her clothing, her make-up and her demeanor an upscale, uptown woman, a banker’s or politician’s trophy wife from the sound of it. Warden’s description had Marlin thinking thoughts of a dame looking like something out of Vanity Fair and smelling, well, smelling of sandalwood if anybody was asking, just a faint whiff of sandalwood like it is supposed to be applied.

This Warden asked Shorty and then Marlin if they had seen such a twist (his term). They answered no, although Marlin wished just then that he had. And new bar or old, tarts or ladies, for his efforts, for coming out of the red wind night howling outside, old brother Warden was waylaid and shot point blank by a dizzy guy who like Marlin was also nursing a few drinks at one of the tables. That guy, a saggy guy just like Walden, fled using the cover of the dust kicked up by the red winds to get away clean. That scene made no sense under normal circumstances but in the blood red night something was breezing ill. 

Naturally, after the police, the cops, in the person of one hard-nosed Homicide Detective Smiley Walsh who had no love for private dicks as he called them, especially Marlin since he had gotten his nose bent out of shape in the Gilbert murder case by him, finished rumbling him up, finished giving him the third- degree, practically calling him the perpetrator, or in cahoots with the hard guy, our boy Marlin was up for anything that would shed light on what the hell had happened before his very eyes. See, not only did that dizzy lambster plug Warden but he wanted to put two between the eyes of one Michael Philip Marlin (and the newly minted bar owner, Shorty, too) to erase any witnesses to his dastardly deed. Except this, Marlin, for professional pride, and rightly so, took umbrage at that notion that he could be rubbed out for drinking a friendly beer in his own damn neighborhood.

He, moreover, was taken with the intriguing idea that some femme, some femme with that essence of sandalwood surrounding her was out in the red wind night. Maybe needing help, maybe needing windmill-chasing help, maybe needed some comfort between the sheets if it came to that. It was that kind of night, and he had those kinds of feelings. And so our boy when he had a chance to think about it, about Warden’s whole damn existence, figured out it didn’t make sense that a loser, a born-loser from that minute look at him that Marlowe had was keeping social company with some guy’s uptown trophy wife. And so our boy traced Warden’s movements back from his entry into the barroom, back to his car, back to his apartment, and finally coming up with some clover, back to her.     

[Just for the record that barroom killing was nothing but a settling of old scores by a guy, Detroit Red, who believed, and believed correctly as it turned out that Warden had dropped a dime on him back East. A dime which sent him to Sing -Sing for a nickel on an armed robbery rap and his fate is of no further interest to us.]

This was the way it went down. This Warden was nothing but a grifter, a ex-con with expensive habits, a dope thing, a nose candy jones bad habit. Inhaling more cocaine than he was selling, always a bad mix. He had landed in jail on some lightweight drug charge up in Oregon and did some time with Richard Baxter, yes, the Richard Baxter who controlled the whole political machine on the sunny slumming angels streets of the town. No move, no contract, hell, maybe no breathe was taken without Baxter’s okay, and Baxter’s cut. This Baxter, obviously did not want that hard jailbird fact known around town, among many other little things that he wanted kept secret.

Warden’s grift though was to get to Baxter through his wife Lola, the woman of the sandalwood night. A real looker, with a little class unlike some of the tramps Baxter had previously cavorted with. Baxter had picked her up on the rebound after her true love bit the dust down Mexico way flying stuff in and out, and it took no imagination to figure out what any gringo was flying in and out of Mexico in those days, or now for that matter. That pilot love had been working off and on for Baxter as well until Baxter got wise to his old- time flame relationship with Lola so wonder if you want to about the nature of that plane crash. No one, no one over the age of seven, would put it past Baxter. Warden, a resourceful sort in a crude way, in order to make a strong selling point stole a certain pearl necklace of hers to grab some quick dough to feed his habit. In any case the pay-off to Warden was dough, big dough, for the pearl necklace that this fly boy had given Lola as sign of undying devotion. And to keep that information out of the hands of the jealous domineering Baxter. So Lola was the woman Warden was looking to meet at the bar to make the exchange before he died in a hail of bullets.         

Lola, still without her necklace after the aborted meet with Warden, then hired Marlin to retrieve the item and keep it on the hush after he had tracked her down as the upscale woman Warden was to meet. The tracing was simpler than Marlin thought it would be since Warden had rented a room at the formerly regal Hotel Alhambra now gone to seed over on Spruce where he knew the house detective who, for a fiver, let him into Warden’s room. There he found enough information about his mystery woman to connect the dots. He phoned her, arranged for a meet, and that was that. That was that once he got a look at her, all exotic and shimmery there was no other way to put it, with that vague sandalwood scent hovering around the in the air and that ignited, or better re-ignited, his silky sheets thoughts although once she made him aware of the Baxter connection he backed off, backed off a bit. At least until he found the necklace.  

Naturally Marlin’s code of honor, his get the job done honor, required that he adhere to that bargain. Just as naturally though he found the necklace. A dopester like Warden keeps things simple, had to once he was on the nod, once he crossed over the line or he was finished, and then usually found face down in some dark back alley or along some forsaken riverbed. So Marlin retraced those Warden steps again, and again back to the Alhambra. This time to check with the desk clerk to see if Warden had any mail or messages. After passing another fiver to the clerk he got the contents of the mailbox where he found a message from Johnny Shine, a dope dealer well known to Marlin and the L.A. police, to Warden. He shot over to Central Avenue to Johnny’s hang-out, Spike’s Pool Hall, where after a little rough stuff, not much, dopers aren’t built that way, and a couple of threats about coppers, he obtained an envelope Johnny was holding for Warden. That envelop contained a key to a locker box down at the Greyhound Bus Depot from which Marlin grabbed the necklace.

After its return to her Marlin got his little off-hand romance with the lovely lonely, ethereal Lola.  Seems that the life of a trophy wife, Baxter’s trophy wife, was pretty boring and pretty lonely, especially since Lola was pining away for that old pilot love and so many an afternoon for the next few weeks they had their clandestine affair, had their moment together. Lola told Marlin one afternoon about Baxter’s strangely asexual habits and so he, mistakenly as it turned out, pulled his guard down a little, didn’t keep the affair as clandestine as it should have been. Baxter, who had his tentacles everywhere in his domain found out about Lola and the pearls, the potential expose of his jail-bird time, and her little tryst with Marlin and was determined to do something about the matter.

Men like Richard Baxter do not get where they wind up without walking over a pile of corpses and so he confronted Lola and Marlin in her bedroom one night, maddened, gun in hand. Somehow Lola diverted Baxter’s attention long enough to let Marlin to take a shot at him, a fatal shot, taking a couple of slugs herself in the melee. She died in Marlin’s arms clutching that necklace. As for the necklace itself which that old time fly- boy love told Lola had been worth big dough Marlin found out it was glass, worthless. Yes, Marlin mused later back at Short’s after the dust had settled and he ordered a drink, scotch, to toast his brave Lola love, those navies were right, those dry red winds meant nothing but trouble, trouble with a big T.     

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