Click on image to enlarge.
by Frank Kane
Description: Hollywood keeps no secrets from Johnny Liddell ? When Private Eye Johnny Liddell moves his base of operations to the West Coast, he takes his talent for trouble with him, uncovering more dirt than a ditch-digger on overtime. First there's a movie mogul's adopted son (loaded with cash) living in constant fear of death. The there's a bevy of beautiful gals, all connected with the unlucky lad, but perfectly willing to change the color of their silks when Johnny shows up. Then there's murder--raw and ugly--making him Johnny-on-the-spot, walking a tightrope between the killers and the cops. An unbeatable mystery yarn, packed with action from the moment Johnny Liddell drops his dame in a 'Frisco bar until the final kiss-off in a Hollywood bedroom.
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks, 2011
eBookwise Release Date: December 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [268 KB]
Reading time: 172-240 min.
The long, sleek convertible felt its way cautiously along the rutted road, stopped about twenty feet from the edge of the high cliff. The man in the driver's seat turned off his motor and cut his lights. From somewhere far below came the hiss and swirl of surf.
"Shad, what's been worrying you so all evening?" The girl, in the half-light, was dark, her teeth startlingly white against the full ripeness of her lips.
"I'm in a jam, Terry. A real bad one." He raked his fingers through his hair, stared out over the black abyss. "I don't know what I'm going to do." He half turned on the seat and looked down into the girl & face. "I'm scared. Scared stiff."
"Nothing will happen to you, Shad," the girl promised. "We'll get married and take whatever comes together." She reached up and took his face between her two hands. "I'm sure nothing will happen."
"I can't, Terry. I can't marry you." He looked at her miserably as she dropped her hands from his face and squeezed over to the far side of the seat. "You don't understand, Terry--"
The girl reached into her purse, came up with a cigarette, stuck it between her lips, snapped on her lighter. In the small light her eyes were violet, her hair deep black. "You-don't have to explain, Shad." She lit the cigarette, took a deep drag on it, and let the smoke dribble from her nostrils. "I thought you wanted to marry me."
"I do, Terry, but--"
The blackness of the night was suddenly split by twin beams. A big black sedan crept to a stop behind the convertible. Two men got out, one on each side, and walked to the open car.
"Outside, pal," the man on the driver's side growled throatily. "I got a message for you. Special delivery."
"No, don't. The man in the car tried to squirm out of arm's reach. "Don't let them, Terry. Don't let them."
"Stay out of this, baby," the man outside the car advised. He shoved his face into the car, his thick lips grinning in anticipation, his heavy face dominated by a spattered nose. "This is just between Junior and us." He opened the car door, reached in, caught the man in the car by the arm, and dragged him whimpering into the road.
"Don't do anything," the younger man pleaded. "I'll pay. I'll get the money someplace. Tell Yale I'll pay--"
The man with the spattered nose grinned. "Sure you will. This is just interest." He lashed out with a big ham-like hand and sank it into the younger man's midsection. The bigger man caught him before he could fall and straightened him up with another punishing body blow. The boy's knees folded under him; he hit the ground face first.
"Don't mark his face up too much, Maxie," the slugger's companion ordered. He leaned against the convertible, twirled a .45 by its trigger guard. "But make sure he knows we ain't kidding."
Maxie nodded, caught the man on the ground by the collar, dragged him to his feet, propped him against the fender of the convertible. The boy's head rolled, his knees sagged. Maxie laughed, held him upright, slammed him across the mouth with the flat of his hand. The boy's head snapped back; blood began to run down his chin.
"He's too pretty anyway," the man with the broken nose grunted. He hit him in the mouth again, draped him back over the fender. The boy slid down the fender slowly, rolled over onto the ground on his face.
The little man with the gun walked over to where the boy lay, kicked him in the side. He kept kicking until the boy stirred. "I think just a little more, Maxie. We wouldn't want him to think we were fooling."
The big man grinned. "Okay, Duke."
The girl in the car shook her head. "No more. You'll kill him. Don't!"
The man with the gun walked over to the car, leaned in, slapped the girl across the face. "Shut up."
She sank her face into her hands, tried to hold her ears to keep out the dull, monotonous rhythm of the blows, the piteous groans of the boy. After what seemed hours, she heard the other car roar into life, saw the headlights split the gloom. The driver threw it into reverse and backed out.
The girl jumped out of the car and cradled the smashed face of the boy in her lap. "Shad, Shad, are you all right?"
Blood bubbled from between his smashed lips. He tried to talk, could only nod his head. "Home," he mumbled painfully. "Get me home."
A few days later, Johnny Liddell sat at the end of the oval bar on the Top of the Mark and stared moodily through the cottony mist below down the bay to the Rock. The Frisco end of the case he'd come out on had petered out faster than a salted gold mine and he was debating whether to go home to New York by way of L.A. He hadn't seen Muggsy Kiely since the ex-reporter flew out six months before to resume her script-writing chores for Supreme. And the letters, on both sides, had gotten fewer and farther between.
He examined his glass, found with no surprise that it was empty, signaled for a refill. He watched glumly while the bartender made a production of lifting a bottle from the back bar, of tilting it over his glass. The truth of the matter was, he admitted to himself, he couldn't afford a layover on the Coast without a case.
Liddell scowled at the gathering volume of smoke that swirled lazily toward the ceiling, then stared around. A redhead at the far end of the bar looked interesting. Her thick coppery hair was shoulder length; her gown was sufficiently low cut to obviate the possibility of artificial bolstering to her shapeliness. Most interesting of all at the moment was the fact that she was alone.
Liddell signaled the bartender. "Ask Miss--" He raised his eyebrows, indicated the redhead.
"Bradley. Louise Bradley." The bartender followed the direction of his glance. "She's vocalist with Benny Lewis's band. Sings in the Sky Club."
"Ask Miss Bradley to have a drink."
The man behind the bar pursed his lips, looked sad. "It's against the rules, sir."
Liddell nodded, fished a bill from his pocket, folded it lengthwise, stuck it between his index and middle finger. "Rules were made to be broken."
The bartender brightened, grinned. "Of course, sir. Then, too, the customer is always right." He took the bill from between Liddell's fingers, folded it, stuck it into his own pocket, shuffled down to where the redhead sat.
Liddell took a sip from his glass, watched the bartender lean across the bar, whisper to the redhead. She raised her eyes, looked down the bar at Liddell, seemed satisfied by what she saw, and smiled. Liddell waited until her drink had been poured, then, taking his glass, walked down to where she sat.
"Thanks for the drink." Her voice was husky in a way that raised goose pimples down his spine. "Won't you sit down?"
"Thanks." Liddell hooked a bar stool with his toe, pulled-it over.
"Stranger in town?" she asked.
"Not exactly. Used to be stationed out here years ago. But I don't seem to know many people anymore."
The redhead grinned. "Well, meet me. I'm Louise Bradley."
"So I heard. I'm Johnny Liddell." He reached into his pocket, brought up a pack of cigarettes, held it out to the girl. When she'd selected one, he stuck one in his own mouth.
"Where are you located now?" The girl leaned over, verified his original observation that Nature had needed no assist in the magnificence of her facade, accepted a light.
"No kidding? So am I." She took a deep drag on the cigarette, blew the smoke dreamily at the ceiling. "What I wouldn't give to be going back there right now."
Liddell smiled sympathetically. "Been away long?"
"Three years. But what a three years. One nighters, college proms, living out of a suitcase, and using a bus for a hotel room." She shook her head. "It might only be three years by the calendar, but baby, it seems like forever to me."
"What's so bad about this? You're not hopping around, got a good spot in a good town--"
The girl snorted. "A good town? Frisco? You kidding?"
Liddell shrugged. "Why not? What's New York got that Frisco hasn't?"
"Broadway for one thing." She closed her eyes. "I keep remembering how the lights always look washed out just around dusk and then really come to life when everything else is dark and--"
"And the orange-juice stands and the sucker traps and auctions and the tenth-run movie houses and the sickly sweet smell of doughnuts on Forty-Fifth Street? Baby, you're just homesick. You wouldn't be there a day without wishing you were three thousand miles away again."
The redhead grinned, sipped at her glass. "Maybe. But I miss the subways and the crowds, the fresh kids that dance for pennies at show break--"
"What's there to miss about other people standing on your feet and kids who dance for pennies and if you don't give it to them they follow you to a dark street and take it away from you?"
"This town is better? The men can't make up their minds if they really are and hang out in Finocchio's while the women play at being men and hang out across the street at Moana's. As for the guys in the band--" She shrugged. "If you ever traveled with a crew like Lew's you'd know what I mean."
"You've just been going out with the wrong people. Why don't you let an old native like me show you the town right? Tonight for example."
"I'm a working girl," she reminded him. "I'm due for two shows at the Sky Club. I couldn't get away before eleven."
"Good. The evening's just beginning. We can--"
The bartender walked over. "You Liddell?"
Liddell looked up, nodded.
"Call for you."
"I'll take it here." He grinned at the redhead while the barman was plugging the phone in. "I don't want to take any chances on your getting away."
The redhead let her eyes wander over the heavy-set shoulders, the rugged chin, the crooked grin, and gray-flecked black hair. "I didn't intend to try."
The operator put the call through, and in a moment a familiar, half-forgotten voice flowed through the receiver. "That you, Johnny?"
"Who's this? Muggsy?"
"Who then? You been cheating on me?" the receiver chided. "A fine thing. You come out to the Coast and don't even let me know."
"I just got here yesterday. I was finishing up a case. How'd you locate me?"
The receiver sniffed at him. "That Rexall redhead in your office in New York. She didn't want to tell me, but I told her I'd personally go back there and tear her loose from her Toni unless she told me." A new serious note crept into her voice. "I need help, Johnny. Bad."
There was a slight pause, then: "I've got a case for you. A very good friend of mine needs a private detective. I told him I'd get you for him."
Liddell groaned. "Why me, Muggs? There are plenty of good ops in L.A. I'll give you a couple of names, and--"
"We can't use any local talent, Johnny. This is real hush-hush." Her voice dropped. "I'm asking you for me, Johnny."
Liddell scowled irritably at the mouthpiece, pinched at his nostrils with thumb and forefinger. "Well, maybe I can get away sometime tomorrow, and--"
"It can't wait that long, Johnny. I told Richards you'd be here first thing in the morning. Don't let me down, will you?"
"The morning? How the hell can I get down there first thing in the morning?" He consulted his wrist watch. "It's almost six now."
"You can get the Lark at ten. That'll bring you into Glendale by about eight. I'll make a reservation for you at the Marlowe."
Liddell looked over to where the redhead sat smoking. "I can't leave by ten, baby. I've got things to do."
The receiver laughed at him. "That's what I figured when I found out you were in the bar. You're more likely to stay out of trouble if you hit the road by ten. Got a pencil?"
"Take this down. Eddie Richards Productions. Got that? He's on Wilshire, and he's expecting you at nine. You'll be there, won't you?"
Liddell sighed, nodded. "I guess so."
"I knew you would. And, Johnny--take the Lark. I wouldn't want you to get airsick or something by staying over." There was a brief tinkle of a laugh, then the connection went dead.
Liddell slammed the receiver back on its hook, glowered at it. The redhead studied his expression from under half-lowered lids. "Change of plans?"
He nodded, pulled a cigarette from his pocket, chain lit it from the one in the girl's hand. "I've got to go down to L.A. on business. I'm supposed to go out on the Lark."
"So I heard. So you're a private eye, eh?" She looked him over with renewed interest. "You're the first one I ever met. I guess I don't hang out in the right bedrooms."
"We could fix that."
The redhead snubbed out her cigarette. "But then, you're going out on the Lark, aren't you? There goes that Cook's tour you promised me." She slid off her bar stool. "But there's always Moana's, isn't there?"
Liddell took a deep drag on his cigarette, dropped it to the floor. "I certainly wouldn't want that on my conscience," he agreed solemnly. "Think it would pay a guy to stay over and risk getting airsick tomorrow?"
The redhead considered it seriously. "It might."
The telegram he sent the Eddie Richards office post-poned his nine o'clock date until four that afternoon.
* * * *
The wording on the frosted glass door said, Edwin Richards Productions. Johnny Liddell dropped his butt to the floor, ground it out, pushed the door open. The reception room was heavily lined with pictures of movie greats, near-greats, has-beens, and never-weres.
A girl sat at a typewriter, pecking at its keys, taking excessive care not to fracture the polish on her long nails. She was blond and wore her thick hair piled on top of her head; she trusted a fragile-looking silk peasant blouse with the thankless job of restraining her high breasts.
"Richards in?" Liddell wanted to know.
She stopped jabbing at the typewriter long enough for a pair of sea-green eyes to look him over incuriously. "Might be," she admitted. "Who wants to know?"
Liddell dropped a card on her desk. "Johnny Liddell. I'm a private detective. Richards is expecting me."
The blonde consulted her desk calendar, then the small baguette on her wrist that looked as if it might have cost a month's salary. "He was expecting you at four, Mr. Liddell. It's four-fifteen now." She picked up the card, read it, handed it back to Liddell. "So you're a private detective." She pronounced the words as though they had a bad taste. "How interesting." Her eyes never left him as she pressed the button on the base of her phone, crooned into it. "He's in to you," she conceded.
She got up from her desk, led the way to an inner door that was gold-leafed Private.
Ed Richards looked as if he had been jammed into the huge chair behind the desk. He was fat, soft-looking, his eyes two shiny black marbles almost lost behind the puffy balls of fat. Dark, damp ringlets made a futile effort to cover the bald spot that gleamed pinkly through them. As Liddell walked into the office, the producer made no effort to get up, waved him to a leather overstuffed chair on the far side of the desk.
"That's all, Margy." Richards's voice sounded blubbery, as if choked by the heaviness of his jowls and chin. "You can go."
"But not too far," Liddell muttered as he walked past. The door slammed behind him.
"So you're Liddell, eh? Thanks for coming down."
Liddell nodded, sought out the chair. "I was finishing up a job in Frisco when Muggsy Kiely reached me. She told me you had a problem."
The producer nodded, disturbing the rolls of fat under his chins. "Want you to find my kid. He's been missing for the past four days." He swung his chair around, slid open a panel that disguised a small built-in refrigerator and a miniature bar. "Use a drink?"
Liddell nodded, watched the fat man snag a bottle, two glasses, and some ice, and deposit them on the desk top.
"He's not exactly my kid, you understand. I'm sort of his guardian. Kiely tell you anything about it?"
"I haven't seen her yet. I came right here from the airport."
Richards nodded, pulled an oversized handkerchief from his pocket, blew his nose noisily. "Maybe I better fill you in on the background. The kid's father was Wally Reilly. Remember him?"
"The Robert Taylor of his day. Piled his car into a canyon. Big scandal at the time, the coroner saying he had a snootful, forgot to make the turn."
"That's him. Biggest star ever to hit Hollywood." The fat man puffed out his overripe lips, shook his head sadly. "Nobody ever dragged the women to the box office like he did. No one ever will." He sighed again, poured two drinks from the bottle. "Anyway, that's the kid. Wally's. Name's Shad Reilly. And I've been taking care of him ever since Wally was killed. And believe me, it hasn't been easy."
Richards shrugged. "He's got too much of his old man's blood in him. Wild and a chaser, he'll take anything that'll stand still long enough." He pushed one glass to the edge for Liddell, picked one up. "I did my best to keep him under control, but maybe it wasn't good enough. Anyway, he's missing. And this time I'm worried."
"A couple of times. But never for more than a day or two."
Liddell leaned over, took his glass, sipped at it critically, approved. "Could be a cutie, a coupe, and a cabin, eh?" He took a deep slug out of the glass, set it back. "You don't need me for that. Any local private eye could do that kind of a job for you. Why flag me?"
"I told you. No publicity. There's not an op in town that don't make a daily report to Lulu Barry. With that radio program of hers and that gossip column, anything she knows the whole world knows the next day." He leaned forward, slapped the edge of the desk with a pudgy hand. "You've got to turn him up before she gets word he's missing."
"Why the fever? He wouldn't be the first kid to parlay a blonde and a bottle into a cabin. I'd be more worried about him if he didn't make the try."
Richards leaned back, touched the tips of his fingers across his belly. "It's not that simple, Liddell. If Shad gets jammed up before he's twenty-one, he don't get a cent from Wally's estate. He won't be twenty-one for almost a year."
"What happens to the money?"
"It goes to the Actors' Fund." The fat man scowled heavily, snagged his glass, took another drink, wiped the wet smear of his lips with the back of his hand. "Walt was a funny guy, Liddell. Not too smart."
"Sure sounds it. Why should a guy fix his will to freeze out his own kid for a lot of broken-down old characters he never even knew?"
"That wasn't the intention." Richards settled back, blew out his lips into a pout. "He was married to Barby Carter. You know that?"
"Wally was nuts about her, but he'd been around too long not to know that he had to keep his eye on her. There wasn't a wolf in these parts that didn't have his teeth sharpened for her. What a doll!" The fat man sighed, shook his head. "Anyway, Wally gets it into his head that Barby'll get out of line if anything happens to him, so he gets oversmart and fixes it so she won't. He draws up a will tying up the bulk of his estate until the kid is twenty-one, and providing that if the beneficiary gets into any kind of a jam, the estate goes to the Fund."
"But Barby Carter died before Reilly did, didn't she?"
"That's right. She got on the junk and tried to take the cure. It killed her." The fat man sighed deeply. "It broke Walt all to hell and he started to hit the bottle." He shrugged ponderously. "He died without ever fixing up the will."
"So now the no-scandal clause hits the kid as beneficiary?"
"Right. And nothing would give that Barry bitch a bigger bang than to cut Barby's kid out of Wally's will. She never got over Wally giving her the go-by for Barby." He swabbed at the dampness of his face with the handkerchief. "Now you see why it can't be a local op?"
Liddell nodded. "Who's executor? You?"
"That's why I'm in such a spot. I want the dough for the kid. But if this story ever hits the newspapers, my hands are tied."
"He's a chaser, you say?" The fat man nodded. "Any particular babe or strictly the field?"
"He did seem to be concentrating on one babe lately." Liddell dug into his pocket, came up with a notebook and a stub of pencil. "What's her name?"
"Terry Devine. Did a few bits for me, but when I warned her off the kid she got tough, so I ruled her out of the shop. No great loss. Plenty of chassis but not enough up here to go places." He tapped at his head. "Well stacked but ,featherbrained."
"Know where to reach her?"
The fat man nodded. "She's been working over at Mammoth the past couple of days." He sipped at his glass, replaced it on the corner of his desk. "I think it's something worse than petticoat fever this time, Liddell. A lot worse.
Liddell replaced the notebook in his pocket, leaned back. "Just a hunch or do you know something?"
"A little bit of each. Saturday night, which is two days before the kid did the fade, he comes home all banged up. Says he's been in an accident."
Richards shrugged. "But there's not a mark on the car. That's what I know. The rest is hunch."
Liddell nodded, scowled at his glass. "You think he's in something over his head so he's holing out until it cools off, eh?"
"Could be. Anyway, I want him found before he gets in any deeper. And without any publicity."
"Still sounds like you're making a big deal out of nothing, but as long as I'm here I might as well make carfare. What's he look like?"
The fat man sighed at the necessity for movement, made the effort with a lugubrious grunt, and turned a picture on the desk around so Liddell could see it. "That's him." The picture showed a good-looking youngster with large, liquid, black eyes, and a friendly grin spoiled only by the weakness of his chin. He wore his hair in a high wave, the sides plastered against his temples. "Make him from that?"
"Good enough," Liddell agreed. He pulled himself out of the armchair. "I'll check you in a day or so. In the meantime, if you want me I'll be at the Marlowe."
The fat man nodded, let his heavy lids veil his eyes. "Make your report direct to me--nobody else." He stared at Liddell for a moment. "If you want anything, ask Margy. She'll give you anything you want--within reason."
The blonde in the outer office was polishing her nails when Liddell came out. She raised her eyes as he walked over to her desk, dropped them again to her nails.
"Have fun?" she asked.
"Loads of it." Liddell grinned. He pulled a fresh pack of cigarettes from his pocket, stripped the cellophane off it, tore open the tin foil. "Smoke?"
The blonde shook her head.
"Richards told me anything I wanted, all I had to do was ask you."
"How nice for you. And what was it you had on your mind?"
"A telephone number."
The blonde raised her eyebrows, pursed her lips, shook her head. "Sorry, Liddell. I'm not in the habit of--"
"Terry Devine's telephone number."
"Oh." What had started out to be a grin faded from the blonde's face. She shrugged. "No accounting for tastes, I guess." She pulled the telephone over to her, started to dial. After a second, she handed the phone to Liddell. "She's all yours, mister."
Liddell grinned, put the receiver to his ear.
"Who is this, please?" she wanted to know, a trifle testily.
"Is this Terry Devine?" Liddell countered. The voice admitted it. "My name is Johnny Liddell. I'm at Eddie Richards's office. I'd like to see you for a few minutes."
"I'm a private detective. I'm doing a job for Mr. Richards and I think you might be able to help."
"What is this? If he thinks he can strong-arm me into--"
"Just conversation is all I want."
She snorted. "I don't want any conversation about Eddie Richards. And you can tell him--"
"The conversation is about Shad Reilly."
There was a slight pause, then: "What about Shad? Has anything happened to him?"
"That's what I'm trying to find out, Miss Devine. You can help me. Do I get the few minutes?"
"Well, I don't usually have visitors here. I--" The voice hesitated for a moment, then: "But I do want to help. If you'll be here in about an hour or so, I'll be glad to tell you anything I can."
"I'll be there. What's the address?"
"Denton Apartments. Figueroa at Fifteenth."
Liddell copied the instructions down in his notebook, nodded. "In about an hour or so." He held the receiver out to the blonde, grinned when she slammed it down. "She sounds nice."
"If you like the type."
"What is the type?"
"All drool, and a yard wide."
Liddell grinned. "Shad Reilly apparently liked it."
"That junior-grade wolf! She wore skirts, didn't she? Say, what's this all about? The kid in another jam?"
Liddell shrugged. "That's what I'm trying to find out. He hasn't been home in a couple of days."
The blonde wrinkled her nose curiously. "So what? He's stayed away before and Richards never needed a private eye. All he had to do was wait." She chewed on the end of her fingernail. "What's so special, about this time?"
Liddell shook his head. "I wouldn't know. Maybe the divine Terry can tell me."
"She probably can, at that," the blonde snorted. "He probably went in hiding to get away from her. The way she's been trying to latch onto him these past few months I don't blame him."
Liddell consulted his watch. "You make her sound so fascinating I can hardly wait to meet her."
"I hope your eyes aren't bigger than your stomach." She pulled over a pad, scribbled another notation on it. "Here's another telephone number you might find handy."
"What is it?"
"The Red Cross. Maybe they'll be able to spare you a pint of blood!"