Sunday, January 12, 2014

***The Life And Times Of Michael Philip Marlin -That High White Note-Take Two


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 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 to the journalist who uncovered the relationship , 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.         
Every guy, maybe every gal too, who has ever picked up some raw-boned trumpet, some hammered sax, or some runaway trombone, some brass thing, dreams in his (or her, okay) deepest dreams, the ones that count, about blowing that high white note. The one that says that guy is one with the instrument, is meshed, melted, mended with that metal. Blows that big cloud note, that note that blows out some café door and works its way down the barren black starless night back streets and curls on out into some foam-flecked ocean slashed by the waves as it goes out into the Japan seas.  (And early morning too not just black night that hour just before the dawn when the boys really kick out the jams after playing for the carriage trade.) Duke had it, Charley and Miles had it, Lionel on a good night had it, the Count off and on, Artie, Benny maybe, maybe working that side of the street it was (is) a touchy thing to talk about except when you heard it rip out snarling and gnashing in the night you knew, knew what being just south of heaven must have been like when this earth first sounded out.      

Some guys, some guys like hard-nosed private eye Michael Philip Marlin, a guy who covered the sun-ridden streets of Los Angeles back in the day, back when the town was livable for the natives, before the war, World War II if you are asking, came and blew the high notes, hell, the low notes to perdition maybe picked up the blow, took some brass in hand, as a kid but could never quite get the hang of it, could never dream about that high white note. Could only know that it was out there for Duke or Charley to snap up. And so Marlin wound up picking up brass of a different sort, empty slug shells from a wayward gun out in the sullen steamy Los Angeles night after some maddened episode that he had no control over either. Still Marlin, tone deaf to the music grift, always loved to listen to The Bill Baxter Be-Bop Hour featuring artists live, guys who would come in on an off-night or after a gig out of WJDA in the high desert night around Riverside midnight until dawn. Loved to listen to see if some guy just for a minute could hit that damn high white note.    

John “King” Leonard hit that high white note, hit it a number of times like maybe he owned it or something. Marlin heard the King, nobody ever called him anything but the King all the way back to his high school days in Chi town, one night and knew exactly what it meant then when heaven beckoned. Marlin also heard from the Baxter show that the King was to be playing at Jack Reed’s Club Lola over near the Santa Monica Pier for the next several weeks and knew he would make time to catch the King live and in person. Strangely Marlin got to meet the King in person well before that club date opening although it had nothing to do with high white notes, heaven, or even curling sounds beating off the ocean’s edge, but rather too much noise, too much racket.
Times, like for everybody else, were hard in the 1937 private eye market and so Marlin the never work nine-to-five-for-another-guy kind had had to lower his standards and work the graveyard shift as the house peeper for John Reed’s low- rent hotel (a “no tell” hotel in the parlance of the business), the Taft (which hadn’t been fixed up since about that fat man’s presidential administration-wonder if he could blow that note-probably not). Since everybody was trying to save dough in 1937 Reed had the King stay in his hotel rather than some five-star digs like he, the King in all his finery, expected but to make up for that slight provided him with plenty of female company. That kind of trade-off appealed to the King because if he craved anything besides seeking that high white note it was diving under those silky sheets with women, lots of women.

The King with his angel- blown horn as a lure had no want for female companionship, lots of it, and no want either of one- night stands and then off to some other twist in some other town. You know the routine. “Love them and leave them” that has been going on since Adam and Eve time, maybe before. In any case one night, or rather one morning about three o’clock, some of the hotel guests were squawking that the King and his entourage were raising holy hell, loud holy hell, booze holy hell, reefer madness holy hell, and please somebody stop the madman.  And newly-minted graveyard shift house-peeper Marlin was the stopper no questions asked and no quarter given. When the King pulled rank Marlin  unceremoniously booted him out the door.         
Of course a big ego guy like the King squawked to Jake Reed and Marlin in turn was out on his ear, out on cheap street, worrying about the rent and figuring he might have to do divorce work, key-hole peeping, keep the wolves from the door. Keyhole peeping being in season, Great Depression or not. But that was not the end of Marlin’s relationship with one King Leonard. See the King had an opening act, a honey, his for the asking or so he thought opening act, a torch singer, good too, named Delia Day, who it turned out would not give him the time of day. Nada, nothing. But the King was a hard guy to say no to or to take no for an answer and so he headed to Delia’s digs one night to wait for her to come home after a gig over at the hot spot Café  Florian where she was working smoothing out her act for the Club Lola front gig.

When Delia got home and went into her bedroom to change there was the King laid out in his splendor on her bed, that high white note closed off to him except for pearly gates work. Laid out in his undergarments, very dead with a couple of slugs through the heart, if he had a heart. Through the heart with her gun that she kept in her night stand for protection, a gun given to her by Jack Reed when she asked for one. And the King was positioned in such a way that it looked, well, looked like some lovers’ quarrel, a domestic dispute. Naturally nobody believed that Delia just walked in and found the King in his very dead condition, not after the King had bragged to one and all that “he had had some of that” and so they threw her in the jailhouse to sweat out a confession from her. The L.A. cops figuring they had an easy score gave her the third degree but she would not tumble and so they kept her in the slammer as a “material witness.”
Marlin who had also followed Delia’s career, once he found out the King was dead and Delia was set to take the big step-of for the crime, sensed that things did not add up, that somebody or somebodies had the frame fit right around her. So windmill-chasing Marlowe came to the rescue. It didn’t take long for him to figure the whole scheme out though since it had to be the work of amateurs once he gave the bedroom a once over and talked to a couple of the King’s female companions, amateurs, street hookers working their way down from the look of them with their reefer madness eyes who also had some special grievance up their sleeves. And they did in the persons of two guys who worked at Jack Reed’s hotel. The King liked his women, no question, liked to love them and leave them after he had used them up. The two guys at the hotel happened to be the brothers of one of the King’s used ups, a young woman from the sticks, Joan Brown, who they said took what the King said as pure gold and when he dumped her she committed suicide. 

These brothers, whose bedroom set-up antics only the cops could miss were something out of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, got everything wrong. They assumed that Delia was the one who took the King away from their sister when she in fact hated the King. So they set the frame on her by killing the King in her bedroom. They moreover assumed that the King had abandoned their sister based solely on her word. The realty when it came out later was it was she who walked out on King, walked out with a drummer from his band, and was looking to fix him for her own reasons having to with a couple of off-hand beatings she had taken from him when he was doped up . Her suicide was moreover related to the fact that she was pregnant be another man later who actually had abandoned her, and not the drummer who was a junkie prince. See she was a tramp on her own accord but brothers being brothers couldn’t see little “Sis” that way.

The only thing they got right was their getaway once Marlin put the scheme together. Marlin was able to follow them as far as Portland and then lost their trail out in the woods beyond that town. They were never found. Maybe they got away, maybe they got eaten up by the dense and foreboding forests up that way. The King though, the King lived on in his records played over that radio on WJDA.  Every once in a while they would play the King on his signature song, Banana Blues, and Marlowe would ponder over the fact that even a rat like the King should be allowed to go to heaven to blow that high white note one more time like he did on that number.              

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