Back when Brady and I were uniform patrol cops, we were called out to a domestic incident one time in the suburbs. When we got there, a guy in a vest opened the door. We gave him the usual – neighbors heard screams, we have to investigate, sir – and he’s stalling us, I can tell. Keeps smoothing his hair back and every now and then he’s glancing behind him, like he’s got something to hide. I look closer and there’s red flecks in his hair. The sound from inside is someone putting the furniture back in place. Brady and I glance at each other. He’s ready to knock this guy’s door down when suddenly the guy opens it right up. ‘Come in then, officers,’ he says. I’ve got my hand on my nightstick straightaway. I don’t know what we’re gonna find.

There’s been a fight all right, even with the furniture straightened you can see it – curtains askew, carpet ruffled, this guy wasn’t fooling anyone. There’s another man in the room – a shifty type smoking a cigarette, he’s standing in the corner trying to fade in to the wallpaper.


‘What’s happened here, sir?’ drawls Brady.


‘Nothing, officer,’ says the vest. ‘There must be some mistake.’


‘Why is there blood in your hair?’ I ask him.


‘Is there?’ he says. He’s trying to be cool, brazen it out. ‘I think I cut myself shaving, must have smeared some.’


‘Are you married?’ asks Brady.


‘Yes, officer, but my wife is out. She’s visiting friends.’ There’s a pause while we wait. ‘This is our lodger, Murphy.’


I take a look at Murphy, a long look. His face is familiar.


‘Do you mind if we look around?’ says Brady now and he goes towards a shut door. It’s locked. ‘Do you have a key to this, sir?’


‘I don’t, officer. That’s the cleaning closet. Only my wife has the key.’


‘I see. What time will she be home?’


I’m looking at Murphy, looking real hard.


‘I don’t know. She could be late. Sometimes she stays out all night, if she’s drinking.’


Murphy stifles a laugh at this. I don’t know that laugh but I know that face.


‘In that case, I’m going to have to break down this door.’


I know it all right.


‘There’s no need for that, officer. I can assure you there’s nothing of interest in there. Perhaps if you tell me what you’re looking for.’


I know it.


‘Brady,’ I said.


‘Just a minute. What is it, Jack?’


‘Let’s try the kitchen. Is it this way, sir?’


There’s a little kitchen on the other side. I take Brady in there. The two guys are still standing. They look like they’ve sobered up too quick. They look in shock now.


‘What’s up, Jack?’


‘I know who that guy is.’


‘Which guy?’


‘Murphy. The lodger.’


‘You do? Well, who is he?’


‘He’s Pickman Walters.’


‘Walters? The jewel thief?’


‘It’s him. I recognize his mug shot.’


Brady takes a breath. ‘OK, Jack. Here’s what we’re gonna do.’


We stride right out of the kitchen. Brady goes straight to the locked door; he’s got his nightstick out. I’m hanging back. Brady starts pounding on the door with his nightstick. He’s banging and banging on it. The vest comes over to him; he has his arms stretched out like he’s going to grab Brady. Brady feels himself under attack and his partner’s not there by his side; he’s hanging back. Brady has to defend himself, so he turns and cracks this guy on the head with his nightstick. The guy falls down like a sack of potatoes. Murphy makes a move – not to help his buddy, he starts heading for the exit. I grab him from behind, half-nelson. I push him to the floor. I’ve got the cuffs out. Brady’s there. I cuff Pickman Walters and put him in the corner. Brady smashes the door down with a shoulder charge. We pull a body out. It’s the wife all right. She’s still breathing, but she’s had a bottle jammed into her right cheek, glass from the bottle sticking out all over her face, the unbroken half of it on the floor beside her. There’s blood all over her. and shards of glass buried everywhere – in her face, neck, lips, even in her eyeballs. Her whole body seems a bloody mess, yet somehow she survives. Fifteen minutes later, I watch the medics pick bits of glass out of her face. There’s a world of glass in there. What a son of a bitch.


When he came to and saw the scene, the husband confessed. The whole story came out later: the husband didn’t know who Walters really was. Walters was a goddam sick bastard. He was a jewel thief, sure, but that wasn’t enough. His real pleasure was hurting; he was a sadist all right. He’d told the husband a story about his wife cheating on him, talked him into taking a little vengeance – given him bourbon to help the story along. Walters never admitted it, but he was the one who smashed the wife up. The husband was an idiot, a bitter, wronged man, but just an idiot. And a coward, I guess. He’d stood by while Walters rammed that bottle halfway into his wife’s head. Stood by. Goddam.


Brady and I hit Flannery’s pretty hard that night. When you’re a cop, you gotta let stuff like this go, otherwise it drives you crazy. But I couldn’t let that one go, not that one, not after I saw them picking the glass out of that broad’s eyeballs. That night was the first time I blacked out as a cop and the first time I used booze as an anesthetic. Brady told me I had to toughen up and I guess I did. Pretty soon, all kinds of shit were just part of the job.


Flannery’s was our regular place to go, the bar we hit at the end of every shift. In those days there had been me, Brady, Morgan, Old Joe and Tiski, the Polack. We’d all joined up about the same time, after the war. Returning from Europe, nothing back home seemed real in the same way it had been, and there was a feeling I couldn’t quite shake that it was up to me to do something about it; so I joined the LAPD, just in time for prohibition. The others had similar stories, I guess. Even Tiski would come down to Flannery’s, although it must have seemed like a foreign country to him. Or maybe everything did. Maybe it is that way for the Polacks everywhere.


Tiski had a partner called Rabbit, but he wasn’t one of us. Rabbit had a nervous habit of twitching his nose and claimed to have a kind of second sight or something. He’d know sometimes ahead of time when he and Tiski were gonna get a call, like he had inside information. It turned out later, of course, Rabbit was on the take and was deliberately pointing his partner the wrong way. He was the first one I ever knew to be in the pay of Joey B and the mob. By the time I left the force, it seemed every other guy was on their payroll.


When I’d joined the LAPD, the city was awash with illegal liquor brought in from Canada, the operation run by Joseph Ardizzone and Jack Dragna. We saw the side effects of bootlegged booze – the crazy drunks, the bums, pickpockets and the fist fights – but there was never any attempt to get at the root of the crime. We dabbed the cuts and grazes and left the bullet holes alone. Ten years down the line, things started to change: Ardizzone was dead and Dragna was in charge, but new faces started to appear in Los Angeles. Some of these were mobsters from back east, some were small-time operators trying to make a name for themselves. All of them wanted to muscle in on Dragna’s operation and Joe Butiglione was the most successful. He saw the end of prohibition coming and had the smarts to try and model himself as a respectable businessman instead. Joey B, as everybody called him, was a bootlegger turned union organizer, but he claimed to be a fashion importer and formed the Italian Protective League with a California senator as chairman to improve his image. After the repeal of prohibition, the mob’s illegal activities became more covert, subterranean. Instead of booze, they sold heroin, brought in from South America via Texas, ran protection rackets and gambling dens; but Joey B’s smartest, dirtiest move was to infiltrate the LAPD. Cops started taking backhanders to turn the other way, payoffs to keep their mouths shut; cuffs would loosen, killers walk free, sharp-suited and smirking as they stepped confidently out of the court rooms. From the Mayor and Chief of Police right down to the officers on the street, there was a vein of corruption running like bootlegged whiskey through the force. Word went around the station that this captain or that lieutenant owed their promotion to favors done for Joey B. For the first time, those breaking the law and those enforcing the law walked hand in hand. It eventually made me so sick I couldn’t sleep at nights, and that’s when I knew I had to get out.


Morgan was the first to point the finger at Rabbit. Morgan was always the most cynical of us. Tiski would tell us his stories in broken English down at Flannery’s, always standing up for his partner like a good cop does, always defending him, and Morgan would cast doubt on every ‘flash’ Rabbit had shared. ‘If he’s so gifted,’ said Morgan, ‘how come you don’t make more arrests?’ When Tiski wasn’t around, Morgan began to suggest to the rest of us that Rabbit was protecting the guilty and, when the arrests did begin to increase, framing the innocent. Rabbit seemed to be getting away with something all right. Until he got shot in the back of the head one Halloween night. Brains all over the sidewalk. ‘Didn’t see that one coming, did he?’ said Morgan, as if that proved something. Tiski said Rabbit got caught in crossfire, but the suspicion remained that he’d got greedy and Joey B had pulled the plug on him. Morgan looked at everything sideways, didn’t trust anyone until he himself had seen them put themselves on the line. He was hard; but if Morgan trusted you, it meant something.


Old Joe was Morgan’s partner. He’d been around longer than any of us. He was hard, too. The only man I ever saw Morgan be afraid of. Joe could put his arm in a flame and keep it there until you smelled the flesh burn. People asked him why he did it. He said, ‘To remind myself I’m alive’. There was no one you wanted on your side more than Old Joe. If he had your back, you were safe all right. When everything started going downhill for us, he was the first one out. Ran a seedy bar somewhere, gunned down in an attempted robbery two years back. Took three of the bastards with him. That was Joe.


Back in the old days, Brady was always the action hero, but I kept up with him. I was a pretty good detective, I liked to think, but then most of what we did was nothing to do with detection. Dragging in suspects and beating the shit out of them to get confessions, washing out the bloodstains on the cell-room floor, covering for each other like kids; there wasn't much we wouldn't stoop to, I guess. Later, when I thought I was too old to learn, Harry taught me a different way: ‘Softly, softly catches the monkey,’ he said. At the time, I just reckoned it was another of his bullshit lines. A girl I used to go with, she thought it was a regular riot, and behind his back she called Harry ‘The Softly-Softly Man’. Harry didn't care what people thought. He’d say to me, ‘What would you rather have, Jack? Fire on the mountain or water upon the earth?’ That was the kind of crap he was always coming out with. But in time I realized he was right: the softly-softly approach could get results too, especially in the world of the private investigator, where the options were more limited.


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