Friday, January 17, 2014

***The Life And Times Of Michael Philip Marlin, Private Investigator   The China Doll


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.        
No question Michael Philip Marlin, hard-headed, no nonsense, tough as nails private investigator was a “homer,” was a guy who felt right at home in the sun-drenched back streets and alleys of his native Los Angeles (really Ocean City, formerly an independent town since incorporated into the blob sprawl of the city of angels, but that was when he was a kid in those white-washed abode tenements and came of age on their hard-edged streets). He knew the players, the bit players too, he knew the cops, good and bad, mostly bad or indifferent, he knew the hot spots and the low- life dens, knew Hollywood, knew Inglewood, knew all the vastness of the city in the days before the tourists and Okies came and ate up the land. Knew it before the ill-winds of World War II and the vast monies hanging around to be spent by those money-starved Okies. Knew it to be exact.

Time were tough though all around in those years before the war money came booming into his city of angels, his east of Eden, and the private- eye game was no exception. So every once in a while to keep himself in coffee and cakes he needed to take an outside job. Sometimes it was grabbing the graveyard shift as a house- peeper over at Jackie Craig’s Taft Hotel and sometimes he had to take out of town jobs. This one is about one of those out- of- town jobs, about a Frisco town job, always a tough dollar and this time was no exception. Worst it involved dealing with the denizens of that town’s bustling and crowded Chinatown district, also always a very tough dollar. After the last episode in such a district, the Yellow Dog case he called it, he had avoided chop-suey joints in LA like the plague.      

It wasn’t like Marlowe had something against the yellow race, against the Chinese, although he probably if he thought about it shared the same bewilderment at that exotic race, and the same prejudices as the average Anglo- Californian when confronted with a swarm of them. What bothered him was they were so secretive, so clannish that you could not get a straight answer from them to push your investigation forward. That was the case here, the case he called the China Doll case.
He had been hired by a woman, a young Chinese woman, Lillian Chou who wanted to know why her house, her summer house over in Pacifica had been vandalized not once but twice. Although she did not live there much she had a caretaker for the place who had been beaten within an inch of his life on the second invasion, and the thieves had taken everything that was not nailed down, everything including some priceless rare jade jewelry handed down from her mother. She wanted Marlin’s services because he had done similar work on that Yellow Dog case and Freddie Ching had recommended him to her after the cops had essentially blown off the case as just another tong war episode. (Miss Chou’s late father, an importer, was well known to the San Francisco police for his various, uh, enterprises, stolen jewelry, sex- trafficking, opium, coolie laborers, whatever could be sold in the import-export market).

That is where things started right off to get dicey. Miss Chou gave him little information since she had spent most of her time back East becoming increasingly Anglicized. Marlin pulled a few connections through Freddie Ching and was able to find out that Miss Chou’s father made enemies in his time but also many friends, among them Sonny Dell. Sonny the number one Anglo drug trafficker in Northern California, the number one guy in the lucrative opium and heroin market. Her father had made arrangements with Sonny to allow him to use his beachfront house in Pacifica to bring in his materials from the Far East in return for a big cut of the profits. That arrangement had unknown to Marlin extended beyond her father’s death. That caretaker though was the weak link in the chain down from Sonny. He had wanted to tell Miss Chou about the set-up but Sonny would not let him. And for his efforts he got beaten within an inch of his life and the house was ransacked to make it look like a robbery was the motivation.        
Marlin came to this information the hard way as usual having to run up against Sonny’s guns, and those of Lee Chang another powerful figure in Chinatown who also had an arrangement with Sonny. Par for the Frisco course. Here is the screwy part though Miss Chou was privy to what was happening at her estate. She in fact had an arrangement with Sonny where he could use the premises in exchange for shipping weapons and other materials to China to aid in the struggle against the Japanese who had occupied the main areas of China. She used Marlowe as a shield to find out what had happened to her caretaker who not only worked for Sonny but as a patriotic Chinaman for Miss Chou’s operation. Marlowe thought that a couple of lives could have been saved, a lot of trouble could have been avoided if Miss Chou another one of those damn secretive members of the yellow race had leveled with him. In any case, since Lee Chang had some unfinished business with Marlin as a result a certain Chinatown shoot-out, he was avoiding chop-suey joints in Frisco as well, staying far away indeed.       

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