As the passengers disembarked from the plane, I made sure I was right in the middle of the biggest group, losing myself among hawaiian shirts, suits and noisy children. I passed through security with a minimum of fuss, and as I wasn’t expecting to be out here for more than a couple of days, I’d only brought a sports bag with a few clean(ish) clothes. So I skipped the baggage hall and headed out into the bright afternoon sun of L.A.
I might moan about the weather back home. Sometimes it’s freezing, sometimes it rains for days, but at least we have weather. Whenever I’ve been to L.A. - no matter what time of year - it’s always been the same. Clear skies, bright sunshine. The weatherman might say ‘slight chance of precipitation after lunch’, but it never actually happens.
I’d forgotten my shades, so I just had to squint.
Walking over to the taxi rank, I called to the first driver in the queue while I was still a few feet away, in a nice loud voice. “Hyperion Hotel, please.” The driver nodded, so I ducked into the back and we pulled away.
“You know what?” I said to the driver once we’d got onto the turnpike. “I got it wrong. It’s not the Hyperion, it’s the Grand - sorry!”
“No problem, buddy.” said the driver.
“I haven’t been out here for years,” I continued. “Wouldn’t mind seeing what’s changed. Extra twenty bucks if you take the scenic route.”
The cabbie took in a few of the sights. More importantly it meant that he took a rambling route that doubled back on itself a few times. All the while I was keeping an eye out of the back window in case we were being followed. In the back of my mind I knew that it was largely pointless. Whoever was employing Smith had to be either in the famly, or close to them, so they were going to know exactly where they were staying. I just hoped that they’d want to keep any unpleasantness at arms length, and so keep it outside of the hotel.
It looked like I’d got there in one piece anyway - about thirty minutes later, we pulled up.
“Grand Hotel! Enjoy your stay in L.A.!”
I thanked the cabbie and gave him the promised extra twenty, then headed in past the uniformed door attendant who snapped to attention and saluted as he pulled the door open for me. I automatically went to touch the brim of my Fedora in return, and then remembered that whatever else these people may or may not have done, they’d destroyed my hat.
Somebody was going to pay for that.
I looked around. Swish lobby. Swish hotel. I’d heard the groan my credit card let out when I’d made the reservation last night. I only hoped I could get this past Chastity as ‘legitimate expenses’. Mind you - if I pulled this off, settling my bill was going to be chicken feed to her.
I walked over to the reception. Man! This carpet was softer than my bed! How the other half live...
“Good afternoon, sir.” For a second the receptionist looked at me like I was something she’d scraped off her shoe, but managed to force a smile back on her face pretty quick. I guess I don’t scrub up so well as their usual clientele.
“Marlowe. Philip Marlowe.” I said. “I have a reservation.”
“Thank you, sir.” As she looked down the list I could almost hear her thinking : ‘Shouldn’t you be in some rooms-by-the-hour place on the other side of town?’
Hiding her evident displeasure, she found my details. I signed the check-in and she gave me my key.
“In town for business or pleasure, Mr Marlowe?” she asked. Gotta give it to the girl, she was being professional.
I smiled to myself. “Just in town to catch up with my diamond merchant. I’m thinking of buying a few new stones. Thought I’d try the Grand. Normally my assistant books me in to the Excelsior.”
The effect was electric. She suddenly sat up straighter, fussed with her hair and hit me with the full-on smile. The Excelsior was the swankiest joint in town, and it cost a serious packet to stay there. Not that it wasn’t costing Chastity a pretty penny to put me up here for a day or two.
“Well do enjoy your stay, Mr Marlowe. If there’s anything I can do, please don’t hestitate to ask.”
“Thanks.” I said. 'I bet you say that to all the guys that you think might be eccentric millionaires!'
I flipped the elevator boy a buck as he let me out on the twelfth floor. Walking down the hall I soon found room 1259, and let myself in. I was pleased to see that unlike a lot of places, the Grand stuck to tradition and had room keys, rather than those electronic credit card locks. Those things were impossible to get through unless you’d got some serious kit or a tech-whizz with you. The kit I didn’t have, and there hadn’t been room in my holdall for English. However, I did know my way around a lockpick. You never know when you might need to drop in on someone unnannounced.
I let myself into the room. This had been one of the more modestly priced options, but even so, it was still bigger than my office. There was a huge bed, a sofa the size of a small elephant and some seriously fancy furnishings. I dropped my bag and went over to take a look out of the window. I was at the back of the hotel, so just got a view over the city. Still. Beats looking at a launderette and a pawn shop, which is what I normally saw when I looked out of the window.
I took a quick look round, freshened up in the palatial bathroom then picked up the phone.
My finger hovered over the dial for a second and then I hung up. Who knows which pair of ears might be listening in. Jeez! You could tell I’d been speaking to English and Flint the past couple of days. I was usually cautious, but this was ridiculous.
I caught the elevator back down and went out into the late afternoon sun. As I hit the street and turned left, I checked my watch. Five pm. 'That’s 5pm on Friday', I reminded myself. 'Which gives you thirty one hours to wrap this up.'
Better get cracking and hope I catch a lucky break then.
I walked a couple of blocks before I found a drugstore with a payphone. Slipping a couple of coins in, I dialled a number from a scrap of paper I’d stuffed in my pocket last night.
The phone rang a few times and then someone picked up.
“Rick, it’s Chuck Able.”
“Chuck? Long time no see, pal! Where are ya?”
“Yep. You around for a while? Need a couple of favours.”
“Sure thing. Come on over.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you in a while.”
I hung up and walking to the corner I hailed a cab.
“Downtown, please. East Fourth and San Pedro.”
“You got it.”
I sat back and watched L.A. slide past the window. Hadn’t been out here for a couple a years, apart from a weekend with the folks last Thanksgiving, when I didn’t get out of the house the whole time. The city didn’t look like it had changed much.
We got caught in the Friday evening rush hour traffic, so it took the best part of forty five minutes to travel a few miles. That’s progress for you, I guess. Eventually we got close enough and I tapped on the glass.
“This’ll do fine, buddy.”
The cabbie nodded and pulled into the kerb. I paid, and he merged back into the endless stream of cars. I looked around to get my bearings and walked a couple of blocks west.
After a couple of minutes I got to where I was going.
Remember way back when, and I said I’d considered changing my name, but hadn’t? Well not everybody in my profession was so shy and retiring.
I hit the buzzer on the door marked ‘Rick O’Shea - Private Detective’.
Rick O’Shea. Seriously? Rick O’Shea?
But he thought it was cool.
“Come on up.” said the buzzer.
At the top of the stairs was an office that looked remarkably similar to mine. Desk. Chair. Mess.
Rick O’Shea. Known to his mother as Arthur Briscoe. Ex-cop (as most Private Eye’s are), and straight up guy. I’d met him several years ago through a mutual friend in the force and we’d stayed in touch ever since. You never knew when you might need a friend in a strange city. While I tended to favour the ‘lived-in’ look, Rick was a flashy dresser. Pin striped suit, black and white brogues and a black Fedora with a white silk band. He looked less like a Private Eye and more like a 1940’s gangster, but hey - whatever works for you.
“So what gives, Chuck?” he said, shaking my hand. “Whisky?” He proffered a bottle.
“Don’t mind if I do.” I said, and took the seat he was waving at.
Twenty minutes and a couple of glasses later, and I’d given him the outline of the case.
“So whadda need?” he asked.
“Well, Smith took my revolver,” I said. “And I’m fairly certain I’m gonna get shot at again before the weekend’s out.”
“No problemo, amigo.” said O’Shea. He heaved the desk back and produced a small key which he inserted into a lock in the floor. Raising up a hinged panel about three feet square, he gestured at a small arsenal sunk into a case underneath the floor.
“Take your pick.” I raised an eyebrow. Guess he gets into more gunfights than me.
I picked out a revolver not dissimilar to my own, and a couple of boxes of ammo.
“Know where I can get a set of picks?” I said. Would have brought some, but airlines get a bit sniffy about that sort of thing.”
He laughed. “Head three blocks South, place called ‘Tom’s Hardware’. Tell him I sent you - he’ll see you right.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Better get going - the clock’s ticking.”
I left Rick’s and walked South ‘til I found the hardware shop. A small man in an apron looked like he was just about to close up.
“Excuse me, sir!” I said, walking up to him and lowering my voice a little. “I’m a friend of Rick. Rick O’Shea. He said you might be able to help me out with a few things...”
Ten minutes later, and a hundred bucks lighter, I caught a cab and headed West again. I got him to drop me a couple of blocks shy of the hotel.
Making sure that neither of my new acquisitions were making ugly bulges in the line of my suit, I walked up to the hotel.
'Right.' I thought to myself. 'Time to start earning your money.'