My mysterious gangster errand boy left me with a healthy sized packet of dough, two empty beer cans and more questions than ever before. Sighing, I went into what passed for my living room, and eased my tired body into my comfy old arm chair. I'd pulled the fan as close to me as possible. It was late afternoon, and the place was like one of those old prison sweat boxes they used to use, to punish prisoners.

Leaning over, I turned on the radio which was perched on a rickety old end table I'd picked up out of someone's trash.. I was hoping to catch a news report, , to see if there was anything about the murder at Lorna's on there. All I found on the dial was a variety of dance band music and crooners, an advertisement for Lucky Strike cigarettes and a Lone Ranger serial. I switched it off, and sat staring at the open can of Eastside Ale growing warm in my hand. Suddenly, there was a knock at my door.

Now, I'd had enough of surprises for one day. I like surprises when they're nice, but today none of them were of that nature, not even the return of Lorna. So I was just a tad reluctant to open my door, right then. Deciding to turn myself into a nice, quiet piece of the furniture, I declined to open the door, and hoped whoever it was would think I wasn't at home. No such luck. Without warning, my door was kicked open with a splintering crash.

Regrettably, I'd left my gun in it's shoulder holster, which was presently lying on my bed. Striding through the door came two of the biggest goons I'd seen in years. Not since I'd been a patrolman along Denker Avenue and Jefferson Park in the 1920's, had I'd come across thugs the size of these two. They were like army tanks in suits and ties. As they came at me, I didn't hesitate, but threw the radio at them. I'd of used the fan, but I needed that more than I needed music or dramas.

Unfortunately, as the radio hit the thug on the right, it only bounced off his thick bald skull, leaving a smear of blood. I figured since that one wasn't wearing a hat, he'd be an easier target. I guessed wrong. Baldy barely flinched and kept on coming,. My effort to conk him on the head, only seemed to make him even more determined to tear my arms and legs off.

I decided to take a different tack. I held up my hands in surrender.

Less than fifteen minutes later, after a few slugs in the stomach with a fist posing as a sledge hammer, I found myself being stripped naked, and then dangled by my ankles from the roof of the apartment house. I should have been a lot cooler that way, but instead I was sweating bullets from sheer fear. The odd thing was, they never said a word. Not one single syllable. Which, maybe would've taxed their tiny brains too much, I suppose. But, it would have been nice to know what I was being murdered for.

I stopped yelling and squirming rather quickly, in fear that they'd drop me before they were ready. No need to rush my demise, after all. Where there's life, there's hope, as the old saying went. One thug held my right ankle, the other was grasping my left in his sweaty hand. It was baldy. That figured. His partner spoke suddenly.

"Yer sticking yer nose into something ya' shouldn't, an' our boss don' like that. He ain't givin' ya' no warnin', pal. He's told us ta' off ya', an' that's what we're gonna' do....after ya' tell us what ya' know about Zabinsky."

.Despite my almost doing something embarrassing and nasty all over myself, I vaguely wondered at the notion that this thug could form whole sentences like that. I'd never heard raw meat talk before. I felt baldy's palms grow more slick with sweat. It was broiling on that roof. The late afternoon sun was slanting down on it, baking the tar, filling the air with its pungent tang.

Then, my ankle started to slip through baldy's hand. I panicked, and grabbed on to the first thing I could find--baldy's tie. As all of my weight pulled the thug's cheap, gaudy tie tight, he abruptly stepped back and began to gag. As he pulled back, I continued to hang on to that tie, but also managed to be pulled far enough in, to hook a leg over the edge of the roof. Baldy had let go of my ankle, but I was not letting go of Baldy...unfortunately, his partner still had hold of my right ankle, and was trying to drag me back over the edge.

However, baldy was slowly being choked to death, and objected rather strongly to that. He grabbed hold of my hand and yanked me towards him, to try and loosen my grip, or at least get some slack.. Well, seeing as I was suddenly turning into a human wish bone, with one thug trying to pull me over the roof, and the other trying to pull me forward, something had to give. As it turned out, it was baldy's partner.

With a scream of terror, the thug had instantly lost his grip on my ankle, and in doing so, lost his balance. I lay there gasping for breath, still holding on to baldy's tie. For what seemed eternal seconds, the other thug teetered on the edge, staring down at the black pavement ten stories below, windmilling his arms uselessly. I watched him go toppling over the edge. So did baldy. I used the distraction to once again give a wrenching yank on his tie.

Now baldy lost his balance, tipping forward, trying to reach for me with that big, meaty hand. I let go of the tie and grabbed his leg and put all my strength into jerking him forward. He didn't even have time to scream. He just barreled over the edge like he was one of those cliff divers I saw in a newsreel once, diving for pearls. Even ten stories up, I could hear his splat on the pavement. Couldn't of happened to a more deserving fella', as far as I was concerned.

For some reason, I'd only just noticed that my balls and various other body parts were being scorched by the baking roof. Sprinting over to my discarded clothing, I quickly slipped on my shorts, trousers and shoes. In the distance, sirens were echoing off the buildings. Looks like someone had found my two goons already. Either that, or some person in one of the surrounding buildings had seen more of me than polite society considered decent..

As I grabbed up the rest of my clothing, I hustled back down the stairs to my place. There wasn't going to be time to pack, but I needed that packet of money, and my gun. I was going to have to go into hiding, which wasn't going to be easy, seeing as yours truly was supposed to be investigating a murder.

I'd asked Lorna to call and fill me in on what the police were doing, but she'd have to wait. I was going to find a place to lie low, then have a nice long chat with her, someplace out of the way and private. She was on her own until I could safely give her a jingle without worrying about being rudely interrupted again.

As evening shadows drew over the distant peaks of the San Gabriel mountains, I observed them from the window of a Northridge bungalow owned by an old friend of mine. He'd not mind my using it., seeing as he was doing thirty days for drunk and disorderly in the city lockup.

Making a few well-placed phone calls to some of my less savory acquaintances, I'd found out more about Lorna's mysterious Mr. Zabinsky. He'd started working for the picture studio in the mid-1930's as a file clerk in the head office. No one seemed to know where he'd come from, or what he'd done before that time. He had gambling debts at a few of the posher casinos, but not apparently not enough to make someone want to ventilate him with lead.

But, perhaps he had private debts that no one was aware of. That was something which bore looking into, I thought, as I downed a cold beer I'd gotten out of my pal's fridge. Stubbing out the cigarette on a saucer from the kitchen, I sighed, rubbing my tired eyes. It looked like I was going to have to get into Zabinsky's place for a prowl around...after the cops had a go at it, that is. Bending down, I looked over the notes I'd taken during my phone conversations with my sources.

Somehow, Zabinsky had graduated from a piddly little file clerk, to a job as a studio accountant two years ago, and in that short time, managed to work his way up to head of the entire department. Now, I don't know how things work in the motion picture industry, but life experience told me that he probably didn't rise this fast purely on numbers. Even if Zabinsky was a genius at cooking the studio's books, it still stank of some sort of favoritism. If nothing else, I've learned it ain't what you know, it's who you know.

And, I was guessing, perhaps Zabinsky not only knew the right people, perhaps he also knew too much about something that apparently wasn't all that healthy for him to know. The mystery hood who'd paid me all the dough to work for his boss, had left me a slip of paper with a phone number on it. I was instructed to ask for a "Mr. Thompson."

I dialed the number. Maybe this mystery mobster could give me a lead on Zabinsky's back trail. I decided not to mention the visit by baldy and his pal. At least, not yet. I had no idea who all the players were in this game, so I'd put on my poker face for a while, until one of them gave me a tell, some indication of his--or her, true involvement with the murder.

"Who's this!" was how the hood of the day answered the phone. It was more of a demand than a question. That's not how my mother taught me to answer a telephone. Maybe this thug was an orphan.

"It's Dawson, I need to have a word with Mr. Thomson, if he can spare a moment of his time." I said firmly but politely, taking a long drag on the cigarette I'd just lit up, waiting for a reply.

Something told me this was going to be a five pack a day case. Dealing with gangsters was like walking on shards of glass. You had to watch your every step, or you'd be torn to shreds.

"When I gave you this number," A deep, husky voice abruptly spoke on the other end of the line, "I didn't mean for you to call me whenever you please. This ain't no social club. You're only to call when you have some information for me, got that?"

"Little something your errand boy left out of our conversation. Sorry." I said, a bit peeved.

The man wanted me to give him information, that's what he was paying for. Well and fine, as far as I was concerned, but the door swung both ways. He was going to have to reciprocate. I didn't say that, though. Most mobsters don't like it when you use big words. Makes their heads hurt.

"Look, I need some information. I'm not asking you to divulge any secrets or incriminate yourself. But I do need you to be absolutely frank with me. I'm thinking maybe you knew this guy pretty well. At least well enough to tell me things about him, that isn't public knowledge. 'Cause, I gotta' tell ya', Mister, I've not been on the case a whole day, and already something about this Zabinsky doesn't sound kosher. I just need to know how, exactly, Zabinsky managed to rise up through the ranks so quickly, and, if you know anything about his background before he was hired by the movie studio."

There was a long pause at the other end of the receiver. I could hear the soft clink of glasses in the background, the distant murmur of some woman's voice. Absently, I wondered if he was having drinks with some broad, or perhaps I'd caught him sitting down to dinner with his mother or wife. Even mobsters have families, pay bills, go on vacations, just like ordinary folks. Only difference is, ordinary folks don't earn their livelihoods by turning to crime, or drop you in the ocean wearing cement overshoes when you do something to upset them.

"I think you and me need to talk. But not here. Your place." The voice said.

"I'm not at my place. I'm keeping a low profile, don't want to attract police attention." I fibbed. Tentatively, I asked, ."How bout neutral territory? Of your choosing, of course."

"Wise move." The voice approved. "You're a smart cookie, Dawson. That's why I hired you. You getting booted out of the force was a good day for us, as far as I'm concerned. My 'errand boy,' as you put it, was right to suggest I hire you. I've a feeling I'm gonna' get my money's worth. Could me more work for you as well, later on down the road, if you play your cards right."

That was about as high a compliment as any mobster could give an ex-cop, I reckoned. However, I wasn't so sure I cottoned to the idea of working for the mob as their private gumshoe. That could seriously hurt my credibility. When or if I ever got some, I supposed.

"As I said, name the time and place, I'll be there, with bells on." I told him.

"Alright, Dawson." He agreed. "Tomorrow night, then. You ask your questions, I'll decide which one's I'll answer." After giving me the address, he hung up without another word.

The address was for some bar in Mid City, off of Venice Boulevard. The Interurban railway would take me right there, so there was no need to ring up a cab. Cabs can be followed a lot easier than some crowded trolley car. Cabs generally only go from point A to point B, you see. The red cars of Interurban stop frequently, are often full of passengers, and they have two doors, front and rear, making it much harder to track someone.

Trust me, I oughta' know. Lost a robbery suspect on the red car once, got chewed out by my captain and put on desk duty for a couple of weeks. What the hell, my tired feet needed a rest from walking my beat, anyway.

.I'd no sooner put down the phone and headed for the kitchen, when it began jangling incessantly. I reached into my suit pocket, tapped another cigarette out of the packet and sighed. I was longing for another cold beer. Wiping the sweat from my forehead, I walked back into the living room, sat down and picked up the phone.

"Hello?" I asked, trying not to sound too much like me.

""Jack? It's me." Lorna's voice dripped sexpot honey on the line. She had a voice which could charm a cobra. Cold blooded creatures recognize each other . I'd stopped at a drug store phone booth on the way to Northridge, and gave her the number at my friend's home.

"Where are you, Lorna?" I asked. It wouldn't be prudent for me to be talking to her, if she was at the police station.

"I'm home." She replied in an agitated voice. "Jack, the police questioned me for hours, I was afraid they were going to haul me in!"

"Did they turn up anything?" The million-dollar question. 'Yes' would be a good answer, because I still had a few buddies down at the precinct house, who could fill in the blanks for me.

'I'm not sure, I don't think so. Not yet, anyway." she said, "They kept going on and on, asking me about my relationship with Paul, and tossing my house apart, looking for the gun, and fingerprinted everything."

Fingerprinting had been in use by the ancient Babylonians and Chinese, but for modern investigative purposes, it's only been in use here in the states, for about thirty years. Although a great tool for law enforcement, it's a slow process, shipping prints out to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for them to check a print against their files. L.A. police were talking about having their own set of fingerprint files, but that was still merely debate. As it was, it might be weeks before any results came back from the F.B.I.

"Try to relax, Lorna," I told her with a confidence I didn't quite feel, "the first thing I need to do, is find out everything you know about Paul Zabinsky. What sort of hours he worked, any friends or family you know of, his spending habits, what he did in his free time, anything you can think of might help, no matter how insignificant it might seem to you."

"I--I don't know. I can't think straight. I'm so worn out and rattled by all this, Jack." she stammered. She did sound pretty wired.

"Go and pour yourself a drink, doll, and relax. It's going to be OK, I promise. I'm going to get to the bottom of this." Or, to the bottom of a six foot deep rectangular hole, depending on how things go, I thought to myself.

Lorna excused herself and put the phone down. I heard the rattle of glass from her living room bar, in the background. She'd apparently turned on the radio in the room, because I could also make out the faint strains of Glenn Miller's "Pennsylvania 6-5000."

A long pause ensued. I guess Lorna was downing more than one drink. The Miller tune ended, and "Java Jive" by The Ink Spots began playing, when I heard another sound over the music. A man's voice. It sounded like Lorna was arguing with someone. She never mentioned that she had company. Did this person just arrive, or was she hiding something from me?

All of the sudden, there was the distinct sound of shattering glass, as if a bottle had been dropped on the floor. I heard Lorna scream in terror. There was a shot...then no sound at all, except for the radio.

"Lorna! Lorna! What's happening? Lorna!" I shouted into the phone. She wasn't answering. Then, the line went dead.

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