Hot enough ta roast tar! Twelve noon Charleston boils how hot is July 2nd? Beside the smaller window 3rd office, suite six 5th floor Allreed Building Jeez I hope Doris didn't mail the rent check yet palmetto bugs all migrated ta the freezer. Twenty-a-month extra where I peel eyeballs over an ice-burn ham sandwich "good luck fellas ..." Hand full-a sweat stubbs the Red butt still smoking into a Folgers can like my checking account that's empty too. Out the window asphalt on State & Broad runs black slimy slick rainbows. Tar ran faster than phones rang, how slow was clients lining up ... thirty days in the cooler looks like a business opportunity. Quit thinkin' will ya Sammy ... I slam the fridge door.

Thirty days ... the cooler, up-river, the hoosgow just cause a' guts them like blueplate meatloaf at the Gas-N-Guzzle guts I got ta ration out. So I rationed ... what did the judge say ' ... you're a liar, but not a damned liar, Mr Levine. Satan would not have you ...'

... heh the judge ain't never visited how would he know? A PI's got ta make a living ... so the bimbo wuz takin' off her frilly clothes - so the City councilman fat ass-hole was putting them on. So I shot action photos through a sky-light. So the judge sez G-U-I-L-T-Y did I ask him to spell? Aggravated trespass thirty days ain't nothin' for a PI specializing in lost South-Of-Broad husbands, wailing matrons and found bimbos how many sobs SOB I gotta write a book sometime ... subtle, that too but NOOO this time I gotta hide the film - be a smart-ass ... Jeez did I do that what-were-ya-thinkin', Sammy!

Not about thirty days ... The joint, the slammer, the hooch ... Ice-cubes, Sammy that's what ya need ... I lock the safe. It's rust edge, made before chrome got popular. Inside sit last years tax grift, a roll of film and 32-caliber belly gun. None a' them is hungry. Not like me out the office door in tan jacket and tan straw Panama ...

"Hold the calls, Doris, I got ta find cold lunch ... under a martini."

"Don't hold yer bre'aaath, Mr Levine ..." Is she kiddin'? Her Dutch-girl yellow curls rivet a cross-word puzzle not me gonna hurt the eyes I keep tellin' her ... Doris-the-answer-girl for all six offices. "And you ain't had no client call fer three days. Now City Councilman Judy ..."

"The fat fart ... what's his spew ... again?"

"He sea'ayaz again ... Mr. Levine he's gonna break yer knee-cap three ways, ya don't come through with the photos." Now the dame looks up, full a' full mouth-a-red pout and Red half-smoked and dangling. "He sa'yazz vice-copper pals a' his gonna cram your PI licence up yer ..."

My knuckles rap on the fade-grain circular desk Doris sits behind. "Heh, alright stop Okey I heard him say twice as worse puttin' on the bimbos skiveys ... what mouth he got ain't fit for garbage." It boils me ... Face-ta-face he can see ME about broken knees he spent so much time on them skin shines, but giving a frail crap-mouth ... whose the round-heel not Doris ... "Did Saul call back?"

"Yeah, Mr Levine he seee-yas he don't know ya ... Like the clients, huh Mr Levine?" Her pencil poked through the cross-word page, and her mouth twisted. "What kind of a brother-in-law is that."

Saul Davidson - brother-in-law ... Repeat what kind I ain't gonna do ... "I wouldn't say crap-face ta the crook, anyway. Talkin' a crooks, call my bookie, Doris. Put sixty on TAR BALL in the 5th at Pocono Downs."

Doris chews lead pencil ... "But them's pacers, Mr Levine. You never bet ..."

"Yeah, yeah, but it's a lock tonight. Gotta be. You seen State Street?"

"Sure, Mr Levine ... I lost a heel, wanna see ...?"

How does it figure Doris got gams like my nags should have faster too I ain't asked, but I brush by headed out the door "Back in an hour, Doris ... hold the calls ..."

"Sure, Mr. Levine have a ham-N-egg fer me."

For a town can't make water float Charleston got fast elevators. Odors of burned steel cable and fresh espresso fill the lobby I pull a chair up ta the roaster. Grab THE RACING FORM. Oily black beans fill brass pans ... a Partagas blunt fumes sweet grey, but Jimbos face hides behind the morning STANDARD and a beauty contest winner on the rags front page. Which beauty does not have Jimbos attention me neither.

"Cup-a-J, Jimbo and squeeze two beans."

Jimbo's a big man with short blond crew hair, greying - a battered face, it comes up like his java bitter ex-Navy ..."Bastards ... need their kneecaps broke ..."

"Heh, Jimbo, I don't got a brass throat, but bugle call ..."

"Sorry, Mr. Levine ... Life sucks a tar-ball some mornings ... the usual two beans?"

I ain't thinkin' Jimbo's distracted ... Like me he's spent hard time with bad people, in places don't make the news 'cept for dead bodies. What matters ta him now gets down the road. Should be ... always is ... I point to the RACING FORM. "TAR BALL ... yeah ... I got sixty on the nose ... what-da-ya think?"

Eight-outa-ten the man's got thinks more than most. One hand still holds the STANDARD. He pushes the double-shot hi-brass black steaming in front of me. "Suck it down ... I heard what the judge give ya. What a grift."

I look at him funny, at his green gills - seasick ... "Yeah, sure, well I can hang from a rope for 30 days ... now the nag ..."

Jimbo slaps opened newspage over the FORM and vomits into fresh roast beans. My eyes fall down on fingered, ink-smear print. I read ... " ... sorry, Jimbo ... sorry ..." bust out the door what sucks this morning most not the melted tar.

Liquor helps. Alone at the Brass Rail cafe working speed-charts and martini number three - I got liquor workin' me into a soft, tarry haze ... six olives. I like the green ones big, REPOSADA-CHE looks good in the 4th at Hyaliah sitting back a' the brass nude at a table fan works above and in front I see mad clients first. I should be so lucky ta have a client ... and wave for the waitress she must be growin' blueplate ... there sudden sit Lieutenant DeLeon and Sargent Anita Bowers cross the table.

How could I miss 'em? Bowers wrap-tight in butch swat-black, but Nicky lounges white linen bunny suit and white straw panama they gonna bury him in. I musta been out ta lunch. They musta dropped into those bamboo loungers across from me airmail. What smiles they got post office don't deliver today. Both order straight squeeze bourbon. What they got ta deliver don't get dropped in a mailbox. What Nicky paid ain't postage -

He's lookin' me straight-face lighting a Camel what crappola, chewing the end into a battered Chrome Zippo - and finally when words come he spits them. "If it ain't Sammy-the-mole ... and I thought we followed a rat in here."

I quit scratchin' speed-points and thumb toward the bar. "Wrong track. Two vise-cops and a whore that-a-way ..."

"I followed a smart rat." DeLeon grimaces. "Read the morning paper, Sammy," he asks like all morning we been working FORM stats?

Nicky DeLeon ... a real, pal he ain't leavin' too soon ... I tip back the pork-pie and bite into the martini. "Heh, Lieutenant, I wuz just thinkin' about ya. Time for a visit from my old palsy Lieutenant DeLeon who might know a certain judge got pms and a pal could use one kind word. But sure, I read the papers ... Boston lost, Yankees won, FOXY POX paid three-ta-one in the 4th at Santa Anita. At the 16th pole FOO-FOO threw his jockey. My nag. What a world."

The copper looks impressed as dead liver, onions no gravy what I ordered. "Didn't read the police blotter page 8?"

My gut stitches ... Read? Yeah, about six time ... "No Lieutenant, I ain't seen it since Monica got her dress dry-clean."

Bowers hacks, and lights her own Red with a safety match. DeLeon got an eyebrow stuck into his cheek. Damn-lies they don't mind. "Then ya learn something every day Sammy - these morgue-shots didn't make the page ..."

Two B&W police glossies slide over the table, like I needed to see both young, dead, cold women. Marks on the frost-blue necks, from rope burn still looked red. I looked up. "Real beauties ... nice fresh faces."

"Yeah ..."

"How come they gotta keep 'em so cold?"

"An airline flew the bodies in from La. It's a health matter ..."

"That so ..." Like vegan and tofu Los Angeles knows about health ... third martini sloshes down I don't touch the olive. "Maybe I seen somethin' ... " and flipped the photos back cross the table what was polite had nothing to do with those ... I got steady hands, and burn a Red Bowers forks across. "Accident, huh ...?"

Nicky gives me an X-ray. "How long ya taken photos, Sammy ... and played with cameras? Years I'd imagine. What do you know about snuff?"

"Snuff? Tulips I smell - I play with lentils too every time I eat soup, but I don't stick 'em up my nose snuff neither."

Both Nicky and Bowers sat without emotion. "Films, Sammy ... snuff-films ... "

What I figured, reading between the lines on page 8 ... Pins coulda dropped through tin-can-phones, for quiet fan overhead sounds like a meat-grinder chewing bone. Waitress delivered blue-plate steaming I pushed it away. "What do I know nothin'! B-movie screamers ... fer guys can't get a hard-on they ain't real ... only in Brazil."

Bowers shuffles her pack a' Reds putting X-ray number two through me I got radiation burns with soft, round doe-eyes who figured them wrong didn't do it twice. "Think again, Sam." Her eyelids crinkle. "The women had broken necks, Sam, and wrists had the same kind of rope-burn. Kind of burn a struggling person gets from well-made, sophisticated knots!"

"Maybe she tied a shoelace wrong ..."

"Also there were marks on the womens anus and ..."

"Okey, alright ..."

"... and when the snuffer's finished, each girl had swallowed a rubber gag-ball, so ..."

Maybe I shouted ... "stop already! That's homicide. I do divorce, only divorce where the couples supposed ta be killin' each other with kindness ... too much kindness ta too many people not snuff no way nada, nix ... never ..." What a world who made the rules not me. "Heh they coulda been drug addicts, they coulda molested gerbils ... what do ya need from me?"

None a' that steely-eye crappola now Nickys eyes wuz watching the fan beat sweat outa cold air like yesterday. What moment-a-silence needed Nicky gave ... then "First-off clamp-jaw!"

Once, I bit a pit-bull. The bourbons come with a fourth martini and it helps. How grim is the Lieutenant like his daughter started dating Catholics. Nicky sez, "still use the Haselblad ?"

"What the judge didn't confiscate, like Nikon got no 1st Amendment."

He got the bourbon chewed half through. "First off, we need you to do a photo-shoot ... of the Sargent."

"Lemme guess ..." How careful am I not ta snicker ... "Police gazette bust-a-the-month ...?"

Nicky's chewing every word like old cow. "Just glamour stuff ..."

The lez got mean eyes on me I don't deserve what's she think'n? They go softer ... "Cheese-cake, he means, Sam ... " I'd chew lip not ta snicker ... "Something for the pervs." Then her eyes turn glint green. "Maybe the bastards come after me!" Bowers ropes an arm cross the table. "We have a lead, a good one on the snuffers and far as we can tail it I'm the bait."

"You're a copper."

"I'm a woman ... I'm bait!"

Bait! How she said it like snakes never bit her just rattled ... . I never known a sane female, but peel Bowers some bead-eye. "Sez who even if I'm chopped liver I get a second opinion."

Nicky jumped a foot strait up. "It was the Sargents idea, Sammy ... first off I didn't like it either."

My heads cocked over, ta the side so the martini glass keeps one ear cold enough to hear. 'Bait' she sez? That isn't bait, but chum she's talking about ... and Nicky? Two First offs he said coulda shouted watch the ice damned fool that devil everyone's visited I feel feet slippin' and grab for details. "How comes ya like it now? Got a trace, huh, on the dead girls?"

"We have ... footsteps."

"How mucha nothin' that tell me, Lieutenant? I seen broke-ankle nags with footsteps they got shot dead at the 8th pole."

"No dead nag here, Sammy. Footprints we have, but only as far as two middlemen. Not studio people, those two but promoters, anxious promoters." Bowers looks over to Nicky. "A friend-of-a-friend knows ... knows of them ..."

Which proved not much ta me since Moses knew the Pharaoh, and Hitler a couple rabbis. Now the Lieutenant's a homicide detective whose friends don't always float-ta-the-surface cause they're cream ... scum floats there too, and snakes I flat-face it ...

Nicky eyeballs his stainless Rolex and grunts. "The contact is one of Hrickos West Coast tech pals." He pounds down the bourbon. "Just take the photos Sammy."

"Yeah, Sam ... ," sez Bowers sucking the Red down ta the wet, lipstick-smear red butt she mashed it, "...shoot me dead."

Dead, she's kiddin' ... and Hricko? Hricko - what flypaper is ta flies ... "That's all, right, you're just going ta send them photos ...?" I gulp down two olives. "What if I do? This squeaky-clean legal, through the Department with lawyers and contracts ... and a paycheck?"

DeLeon hedges. "Legal paycheck no problem. As for official ... ya want credits in the Roto Revoir?"

Who just been slam-dunked ... I seen the big-print LOCAL PI PIMPS FOR SNUFF those credits I need like a 3rd ex-wife. But legal sign twice? I felt like a wet-back swimming the Rio Grande ... drinks disappear like tar balls melt. "Okey, Lieutenant, I'll give ya the best fisheye I got."

We shot next evening. Bowers wore clingy, chromium silk. Nicky ... Nicky should stayed home with his wife - wouldn't let me shoot peek-a-boo I think Bowers kinda liked the idea tits and ass every frail got 'em ... clients buy that kinda crappola, the female clients do. Nicky don't see it that way.

"We ain't doin' an ad, here, Lieutenant for 12-steppers ... the gal gotta look frisky, " I said finishing the portraits. From the waist up bare round cinnamon shoulders that all I got! "How 'bouts the cuffs, Sargent," I suggest not pointing at her black, eel-skin belt she gives me chrome evil-eye ... and gets Nicky ta slap them on. We wait while she sets up like chrome's what holds wrists together ... fem-in-fetters she poses thin, removed ... sharp as glass shards. I don't think how she looks as speciality for a snuff-film sting black Charleston beauty on the wrong end of a Japanese-rope-trick already I'm gonna gag. What's wrong with a bare ass and garter belt? Rope ... rubber balls ... how long ya got ta put up with that crap ... I waited three days, til Nicky calls back.

"Slam-dunk, Sammy."

"They took the photos?"

"And sent a check and airplane tickets to La first class."

Ain't no such thing ... class in La ... "Tickets?"

For seconds the phone line falls dead duck. Then Nicky sez too bright "We get to sting the snuffers, Sammy. They want to get personal ... Bowers will meet them, suck them in ... slam the cage door shut!"

Say it ain't so ... "So I figured ... ya got brain damage, and the Sargent lost both frontal lobes, but I'm talkin' words here ... ticketS - 'bouts the -s- after the -t- ..."

"Oh yeah, ticketS! One for the boyfriend, Sammy. I sent your picture too."

What feet I got on the earth slipping off ta the moon. "Tell me ya didn't do that."

"I didn't do that ..."

Seven-PM we met at his pal Ben Hrickos place on Isle of Palms. For a dope-head eco-perv with money honest smarts don't buy Hricko isn't a bad sort ... He owns a dock and a boat and the fastest computer in Charleston County. He steals money from honest stockbrokers ... like I say not a bad sort ... he looks like a priest, 'cept for his peach-blonde squeeze she's quiet too. Even for June it was a hot night - hot enough ta boil marsh grass.

Shrimp got boiled. We were finishing second Wild Turkeys what crappola on the dock when Nicky sez ... "You and Anita, Sammy, it's a natural."

That pitch I'd been waiting for. My Red hacked out ta the rock island, where Hricko keeps his pet rattlesnake. I got toe-nail bleed and bad blood. Last time I heard those words was from an ex-wife with a collie - she said it would be natural too. "Send a dog, Lieutenant ... I know a couple ..." Bowers is laughing what about?

"Really, Sammy," Nicky sez "what about you? Sammy-the-mole, a local pimping boyfriend, and yer bombshell squeeze, the Sargent"

I thought Bowers wuz gonna gag not me. "What's wrong plenty's wrong. Wrong time a the month, I get airsick seasick too and who ever drank Los Angeles water?"

"Sam, you never drink water ..." Bowers says sweet how sweet can a lez dick talk, Nicky DeLeons partner she lived longer than the last one and turned men ta stone - either hand - no haircut needed. "Can't an honest girl get a break .." she bat-eye croons?

Bourbon slides down. I got brain-bruise ... how they worked me over coulda been lead saps not words ... "Just stay close," Nicky sez I won't need help "to give our Sargent some leg-room" what he means by that I have no idea Bowers got gams ya wouldn't think pump weight-room iron no way not that ...

"It might be fun, Sam" says Bowers light. "I'm just a sweet outa-town frail wants to get some exposure - innocent - the-girl-next-door kinda shots. You're the sleaze-ball boyfriend."

Go figure sleaze-ball the lez goes for like hot tamales find chili. A finger I got up in her face. "I gotta do nothin else? No muscle no creep ... how exactly ya gonna work the sting?"

"Soon as they lunge, we cuff 'em," that rap don't mean nothin' ta me. "'Course we got ta wait til they lunge ..."

Bowers croons. "Plenty of time for us to figure that out once we get to La. Get a feel for the perps ... there's no rush. Just be a creep, Sam".

That's the way Nicky sees it too. "Stay close ta the Sargent and the vacation's free."

"Yeah, Lieutenant, love is free too, but the tips kill ya ..." Still ... Free! La gotta bite since most girls-next-door grew up long ago. 'Hasta La-vista girlios ...' I'm thinkin' ... La vacation courtesy of the Holy City? Tell me I'm hearin' right, Threeballs I ain't never called him that, the street-name Charleston pugs give Nicky, but me! Undercover? I ain't Sammy-the-mole-Levine cause I can't find a manicure ya need a shady-lookin' character for a sting that's me'. The Lieutenant's offering plenty, for a PI with income got more age on the checks than most beefsteak. Hundred a day, Nicky says plus no 30 days in the Charleston cooler, refund my Nikon plus the clients beard-shots I keep that's three bills worth'a tits & ass for an SOB divorce trial - maybe four ...

... and Bowers got an ass that would make bricks cry ...

... coast-ta-coast PI that's me ...

... I live that long ...

"... and Sam's lived a long life .. he's been around ..." whose lived long enough Hrickos been quiet, but he said THAT out loud kinda funny like he's been kiss'n mushrooms and nods something ta Nicky and the Lieutenant chews it over pawing at his white Panama like it's lopsided not one ear where a piece-a-hot-lead took something away.

Nicky says, "still have your concealed carry permit, Sammy?"

"Yeah, sure, Lieutenant, coming up for renewal next month. I'm gettin' crappola cause of the trespass case."

"No more." No more what I figure and he says "I can probably find you a 357-snub-nose, 'stead of that 32-caliber belly-gun you waste ammo on. Still shoot at the police range once a month? Bowers says you shoot EXPERT."

"Only if a rabbi prays over the bullet."

Nicky motions to Hricko "Jesuit's close enough", and takes the 357 S&W from Hrickos paw he's so skinny I got no idea where it hid ... hands it to me. A killer - chrome, snub-nose ... "Color matches your Rolex, Sammy."

"No muscle, right?"


"No violence ..." fresh oil slicks the trigger ... "heh, Lieutenant, that's silver, not Chrome," but I ain't gonna rub too hard. The S&W custom got real weight - and balance like a mans life. End of the dock Hricko's got one a them clam-shells, wheeling it around and zips it flying skipping ripples over brine -

- and Nicky shouts "Now Sammy!"

Explosion! Maybe I didn't see it at all - the shell, skipping ... or aim and squeeze and fire. Ya get stomach-sick sometimes thinkin' what makes an expert ... I've never killed a man with a pistol - the 357-caliber is a man-killer ... Now I look away, staring across steaming swamp, like Nicky and the lez were that flattened out, peach blonde and Hricko too what's he not saying I need a piece like this? Marsh heat? Death got the creep now cold and seeping - death faster than clam-shells shatter, but time past it don't move away so quick. Time spent sucking exploding desert sand where killing was a cold, common thing ... maybe I should tell the bastard right now what kinda expert killing makes you, except that book Nicky's read too close.

Cold, young bodies - I think a' the two dead girls, and Bowers warm, cinnamon shoulders what's jake now not fear that drives sweat into my collar and sucks my mouth dry and time rushes by ...


She flew strips 'a fleshy, yellow polka-dot and Valentines-day sunglasses no blimp floating above LaX Terminal Jeez Anglelyne --- I thought you were a dead Canuck frail no boobs but not this one spilling off the billboard. Me exiting Continentals baggage terminal. Continental yeah, that's me sweatin'. I'm pinching an arm a Charleston PI with no fear better say it twice ... Jeez I hate ta fly. I'm thinking better save the stinkin' sweatshirt cause THIS L1011 didn't lose an engine ... how much wasted insurance money maybe ya buy it for polka-dots too and the boobs about twelve feet each across how much is too much not nothin' in La.

Not anything like Charleston ... tits and ass I ain't never complained the girls gotta do something with it just seems ta be all over in LaLa land. They don't let ya get out of LaX. It's fifty blocks north to the Hollywood sign that really sez BOOBS HERE ...

What-am-I-doin'-here' I ask myself? Terminal door slides open I'm hauling cracked vinyl overnight onto a slate walk, beating off some kinda bag-lady in yellow spandex with a rack like moose have racks before they have kids her paws all over my alligator grip.

But not before she flashes cheek and spits "I'da paid ya for the cigarette, scumball" and tosses a twenty at my feet.

"Keep the day job, bimbo," I shout back and sweat fat salt drops watching her stiff, black wig peals back guess hairdressers work the streets here too. She hoofs lacy Nikes across the causeway just another parking lot shadow ...

I stuff the sawbuck in a grope-proof zip pocket bigger than my fat-lapel jacket deserves. But it's stuffed with other things a PI does not do without ... bet it's different outside LaX. If I ever ditch LaX . I fumbled for the last fag ... Nicky said the lez would meet us at runway seven or Jeez was that a terminal 8-PM sharp and the Lieutenant got a good Rolex better than mine hell no, but which terminal cause Charleston only has one runway and I got used ta that. Knowing where friends are and which way ta home ...

Now I got left lapel up on the trench, and the La Times poked into the left pocket ... right pocket would mean fall-back where-ever the Double-Rainbow is on Melrose ... must be an astrology service I ain't heard of but I know the craft ... right lapel up no paper I got lint ... need a brush I ain't seen no-one. Nicky knows craft too ... I'd flag a cabbie, but haven't spoke Spanish since my last date at Taco Bell what a grease-ball I got feeling that G-word here gonna sink like a tar-pit sloth me underneath. Airport passengers in sweats and Armani suits swirl around me. It's too dark ta see the low, grey thunder-heads.

What I seen of the pervo in white canvas, tweed jacket cheeks pale lurched against the next concrete pillar I don't like. Will Scranton I ain't met him before today. He wears a white Northwest cap and a sharp face, an abstract technical face that don't care like the Lieutenants pal Hricko had a dumb brother. Don't eat too well I'm guessing ... he's got the personality of a dead crow , and as our skin-flick contact in La he's waitin' too ... Hot dry wind snaps down the concrete canyon dusting a string of black Lincolns . I try lighting a Red the Zippo snaps on a nail.

Two frails parade by black and blond in leopard skin, out the baggage door behind me and slip into a stretch black limo. One's squirming on a leash. They gotta be models with legs that long and no panties or are those leopard-tails? I squirm ... my mouth goes dry - I should'a done the thirty days ...

Three fat drops of La basin water smack my trench collar. I think about it. There ain't nothin' wrong with a PI being shady , not a Charleston PI usually working the oak-shade lawns SOB, but specially on the Cities nickel. How many fat Workers Comp city contracts drop my way every week for sprain-back vice-cops getting blow-jobs from the hookers? The Pall Mall crumbles in my paw. A cat shrieks ... G-dalmighty the leopard's got a jaw pokin' out'a the limo roof he looks hungry. One tawny paw on a lost boob. Least now it's french kissing the blond I gotta find him a tar-pit. Him or it or them ... I should be an expert.

Tar pits. That's where I got ta meet Nicky tonight. LaBrea and Wilshire 9-PM sharp like tigers got teeth, but the tar sucked them down too I hope the city covers those damned things at night ... a big tent like the Scientologists use I hate tar - kills my sinus but I understand that's no big deal in Los Angeles since cocaine sand-dunes rolled in Jeez I hope Nicky knows I don't snort that crapolla heck I'm just doing the guy a favor.

Ain't the first thing made me nervous about this gig. "Heh Will, ya got a Red," I snap at the pervo he don't move too fast.

"Sure, Sam. We have time like traffic sneeze on Sunset." Sneeze? He got ears like the moon got a smile cell phone glued on. Nicky warned me about that, how well the pervo hears and the instructions are don't tell him crap-face.

"Cool heels, Scranton, Bowers gonna make it." Say nothing ... just how Nicky don't explain nothin' how we gotta not talk to him. Will's our first contact with the film makers. He doesn't help them so he sez just passing through since he knows the industry. Will lives away one-thousand miles and ain't even a Jew and still he 'knows' the industry. He's gonna hook-up me and the lez with photographers can't tell copper from silver nitrate.

"Known Bowers long," he asks?"

"Couple a' years. Nothing professional. I give him some bead-eye What's your angle...?"

Why he's got ta think about it puck-face makes cover-my-ass feel like true-confession. Then he says quietly "I analyze knots." He turns away. Guys like that I know ... they 'just build gas-ovens' or figure just curious how high the bone-pile gets before it starts slipping. Brains not blood they have, and what passes for balls ... He swings 'round toward me. "You and Bowers ... I understand how cops and PIs get along ... But as a photographer yourself, Sam you know she has the face for it, and the body." He watching a little too long ..." Not just the body, Sam she's like water ... wants to run down hill ..." Sure, I catch warning-flash from the bag-a-bones, but face and body for what? Downhill in La are the sewers ... The pervo got lots of information suck into that bony skull - like a tar pit. He slacks forward, forks a Camel Straight at me and sez "Traffic's tied up like China-town pigs. I told Anita don't take Sepulveda. We might as well have dinner."

Tied up why did he say that I hope he doesn't eat pig? He points to the giant spider building that looks like tangled g-strings with a hernia. Maybe standin' still gives him crotch-rot, but we ain't movin' for sure til Anita - whom I would not call a brick shit-house ta her face she doesn't like gents much and got me by twenty pounds and three inches she might punch a hole right through me -

"I ain't so hungry" - til Bowers shows.

Kinda like a black leopard the Lieutenant got I don't see no leash, though and I always wondered ... now I'm roped in how did Nicky do that?

A horn blares through yellow-light, grey monuments of LaX got thumbs in my eye and the Rolex gotta shout it's now ... "You going to smoke it, Sam or ..." Scranton's still holding the Straigh.

" ... nah, I'm gonna sell it ta bums for sterno ..." Cigarette rolls in my paw stepping into cabbie space along the kerb. Camel turd's light better - it sucks my mouth dry as La tar ... "These are crapolla, Will and keep windin' the Timex. The dame's gonna show."

He nods uneasy, slouches back against the concrete column as raindrops fat as La wallets come pelting down. Pavement sizzles steam. Horn-blare snaps against concrete. I jump back - Like I been sleepin' the yellow Camero slides by slicks squeal stop belching grey rubber like La ain't got the tar it needs.

Sargent Bowers leans across leather buckets shooting bullets through the rain "Ya miss me lover?"

"Till yer buns toast."

"I knew you had a hot wire for me." Bowers cheeks flush sunburn peach, face out window brows curled cinnamon "What's wrong Sam, your pal looks like spawned salmon?"

"Yeah, well, concrete ain't gravel and the fish here bite. How's the Lieutenant?"

"Where he should be. Maybe you boys need a date or maybe ... you're just getting acquainted."

The new dame she shoulda introduced her-n-her. Here's a gal copper just hours Okey a day from meeting mostly alone slime-ball scum she wouldn't crap on first before shooting I'd wait five seconds maybe and is she worried? Nervous? Got hand twitch flipping pages of the cop-union health policy? Got sweat hell no!

"Your mile-high steak better than mine, lover-boy," she asks dropping the sunglasses over her nose? A ropy rhinestone bracelet jiggles. Whose Jill-in-jeopardy not Bowers. Sugar coulda melted on her bare, round cinnamon shoulders.

"Part a' the cow they served me shoulda been a shoe."

She's wearing the same kinda heart-shaped red sunglasses the dame Angelyne wore jumping off the billboard. She's wearing a gold-lame jumpsuit she couldn't jump out of unless ya used a paint-scraper. I'm trying ta figure where's she's hid her piece I ain't gonna figure that out loud no way she's punched the gas darting between black Lincolns and silver Porche convertibles tops up cause rain's a white sheet.

Bowers gotta see me looking, sez "nice ass, huh, Sam?" and smacks the side of her leg leaning over so I catch the outline of a 25-caliber auto-load snuggled along her thigh.

"It ain't loaded, right? Tell me that!"

We're flying around LaX circle, busting a red light front of a huge semi with 'THEATER PROPS' stenciled on the side ... Who needs ta be one-a those the huge chrome bumper coulda stenciled us ... "move over ya dweezel" I shout.

"Take off a load, Sam," she giggles, " we're all going to be stars."

"Yeah, they all collapse fast!" Bowers the super-nova! Bowers laughs slipping the Camero onto Sepulveda, "Heh Will," I say, "the girl needs an ice-cube ... a whole bucket."

"Will's not gonna save ya. Can I play too, loverboy," she sez ... kicking off her blue-silk-top stilettos to the floor beside the clutch. Clutch! "Maybe we get some action tonight! Bring a camera?" She's gonna put Hurst outa business ... she's gonna make some gents big-move the last move not mine - camera I ain't shown ... Scranton's dead-crow chin hung over the seat-back nodding 'I told you WHAT Sam?' who needs a smart-ass one, crow or salmon I gotta put heels on it ...

All others crack a bone Jeez I'm sweatin any problem I get the hernia from Nicky I sez, "already stop, whoa, stop with the static sweethearts cause I need it like barns need lightening no way, nada nothing tonight. No lights, no camera ... no action." I got the pork-pie tipped up not talking too loud over the car noise I gotta shout. "We don't even see scuzzballs. Just meet up with the Lieutenant. We gotta plan - we're gonna get our hotel rooms and get reservations for Musso and franks. I'm kinda partial ta hotdogs Friday evening."

Scrantons chuckle hacks out "Franks, huh ...." and he gotta crack wise. "You always keep muscle around ... Sargent?" He says Sargent not Anita like copper rhymes with female dog.

Her black curls hanging there, over the gold lame ... "Sammy's just being protective, Will," Bowers croons through a low, long puff on the fag. "He's knows what a nice Charleston girl is like." She wipes poodle curls from a doe-eye. "And anyway, Sammy is pretending to be my boyfriend."

"What da ya mean 'pretending'? Lotsa girls give two feathers ta be where you are, sister. Ya could do a lot worse,"

I turn fast ta shoot bad-eye at Scranton. Bowers yanks the Camero off Sepulveda onto the 110-freeway flying north. Fourth gear she found somewhere around ninety I wasn't looking. Scranton comatose, all but the cell-phone suck-face to his ear spitting into it ain't he gonna shut-up West Coast they must get born with the yap-gene works only in a car. Maybe he's ordering stir-fry, with that dead, wet hack he snaps off looking up.

He snaps no old bones. "New plan, Anita. Take the 17-th Street off-ramp. Then left, left across Vermont and three blocks down Maple."

Crappola! I'm tryin' ta figure places, directions ... north seems ta me, but Vermont runs east-west not along the ocean go figure ritzy ... Hollywood Hills, Bowers takes a hard-S across lanes she circumcised a Mustang and slid into the looping turn down into a neighborhood for lines of thick shade trees and iron fences musta been prime real estate sometime. Liquor store neon flashes ahead. Old dead class say the iron fences, punks too. La hatches them like 7-day locusts. They didn't fly yet, but crawled the liquor store like bad apples have worms. What the STUDIO PROPS truck's doing parked over the kerb beats me less it's sweeping the sidewalk ...

"What-da-ya-say, Sargent? Ya scrape one of the white-walls? Time-a-the-month come a week early?" The Camero crawls along, like one of the locals. "Change-a-plan? Does the Lieutenant know about this?"

"Nicky's ... informed," Bowers manages after thinking too long.

"So Will's got him on the horn ... right?"

"Nobody gets left out, Sammy."

"What kind of answer is that?" Out there - I wouldn't leave the ex-wifes collie ... Flop-hat crew scuttling under a bent awning keepin' Wild Rose bottles company. I reach into the back seat. Leather grip feels good. "Heh Will what gives? Ya need ta soak Camels in malt liquor?" He sez nothing. I take out the 357-S&W snubnose and jake it against my spine. It's heavy with eight lead hollo-points. It feels good ...

We stop dead at a green light hanging cockeyed - scag-arm white guy safari jacket torn hangs under the malt liquor sign. Scranton's out the door, to a pay phone. Bowers hangs her Red out the window. It's dry now, like it hadn't rained since the Dodgers moved west. La wet ain't nothing like Charleston. A rough guy in white Nike joggers flakes off the siding, juggling a butterfly knife and slides ta the driver window.

"Brown, white or yellow, sista" he raps? Bowers blows a lungfull over his face. He brushes the cloud away, coughing ... "That tobacco will kill you, sista. I got the good stuff ... Thai, Mex, Columbian ..." he gotta list like we wuz ordering coffee. He got a pal close on each shoulder now three feet wide, each one must be the leather jackets right and faces somewhere in the trees. The men were big.

"You jus' visiting," asked the forth with a stiff white collar eyes back-and-forth poking his head to my window wouldn't fit through, "or looking for nose-Viagra? I can steel-it-up my man ... any way you need help with this fine sista ... "

"That's Okey, padre'," I say tucking the S&W chrome barrel along the window edge jeez it's a cannon, "far as the dame's concerned I'm from Pittsburgh."

"A busy eyebrow lifted, wandering ..." You make the steel?"

"I chew it for dental floss."

Padre' watched the barrel, I'm thinkin' maybe he makes the move maybe not - even either way he then nods away creep smile, "don't shoot the window, cousin ..." I let it fall.

Needle track arms pushed padre' aside. The white scag I thought he fell on a syringe busting around him drools close enough ta see chigger bites. "Niggar bitch won't let ya get any help, eh rabbi ..." he's screaming drooling wild-eye what he seen I ain't never want to "gotch'r DMT rabbi so jam some green-weenies up her ass." The fuck grabs my pork-pie hat. "THESE! First she sees little green dancing men then she sees God."

Not here he ain't never been ... The scags paw got 3 enema-size green caps bouncing one bounces into his mouth and crunches shoulda kept it shut before that.

Quick I hit him flat in the face. Mashed nose jerks with the head, squirting blood and I jam the latch open putting my shoulder to the door and drive straight out ramming the scag backwards -

Bowers screaming "... no Sammy ..."

... and I keep driving with my feet, out of the Camero across the slate sidewalk the bastards paw showing pearl-handle. Crappola! I breathed worse before with tougher men. Black, open barrel-bore whips along my cheek, and the YAPZ of a small caliber bullet creases my neck hot. My shoulder stuck in his chest the scag trips, pearl-handle auto-load flying overhead and his face smashing the slate pavement. Somewhere close the air fills with exploding brick. Scag struggling up, I drop a knee in his balls slows him down, another in his chest he ain't breathing good and got red, foamy gills I stand up - take two steps back.

Sweatin' yeah, but I ain't breathing. Then breathing heavy "Where's the little green guy, ya fuck he ain't dancin' so good." He ain't moving, either, 'cept ta vomit I feel a shoulder about where my head is and look up.

It's the padre' ... "any problem ...?"

"Got a bust knuckle - need ta eat more vitamins."

Padre's head shakes. "That's a bad person ta mess with my man," he sez handing me back the 357 S&W by the barrel.

"Bad man, huh ..." I spit. "He spend time on the streets like this?"

"Usually he's sweepin' them, not crawling ..."

"What does he sweep?"

"The refuse ... know what I'm say'n? Scum like him." Padre' shrugged. "But any man with a weapon is twice the man ... street noise be say'n he has slugs loaded with red-mercury not lead - I once see a man explode ..."

I musta swallowed a lung I ain't thinkin' so clear ... "That so, padre?" In the swill I find the pearl-handle Walther 25-autoload, crack out a slug and score it. "When he gets sicker, give it back to him," I say handing over the piece. "Tell him ta practice ..." say'n more wouldn't be right I shouldn't a said that much.

Padre' puts on that creep smile again. "Stay a block away ... we will ..." and slides back into shadows.

A hot thin crease bleeds back of my neck no problemo ... I'm standing straight. Bowers has come outa the Camero hunched over me like a mad panther eyes blazing and those spikes rapping the slate "baaaad Sammy .... damned-fool bad!"

"Sorry, Sar ... sugarplum, sorry I just don't like crappola for a mouth."

"But you need ta stomp him like that? Insane ..."

"Who stomped? Footprints ... ya see footprints! He come after me not you, so it wasn't your neck anyway."

"Like you would know ..." From nowhere she's got an iodine patch across the bleeding. "Are you finished being my hero?" It felt like a soldering iron. "We don't need trouble, Sam ..."

"Alright ... next time I kiss him ... "

We're tucked in the car. Bowers smuggled a laugh, behind her driving glove. My knuckles swell. Scranton's back.

He's swilling a RedDog_24. "What happened to the punk," he says pointing out the window.

The bastard had crawled ta the fence hanging over it. "Indigestion."

"You don't look so cool, yourself, Sam."

"I shoulda took my vitamins."

Bower's hammering on the steering wheel with a nail, "Sam should listen to his girlfriend."

Scranton shruggs, "... anyway, the Dorset Diner, sweetheart," he sez nonchalant like anyway two-squares get eaten there a day," that's where the wind blows now."

Me. "Ya talk ta Nicky? I don't know no Dorset Diner." For directions I get clamp-jaw. Maybe it serves cold clam-Rockys like clams don't make pearl handles for 25-caliber autoloads ... now I'm scared ... I coulda got killed. Engine roars.

The thugs slide away not before one with a camel nose drops a scrolly, silver ball into Bowers paw she don't say nothin' and drops it into her gold lame ain't my business where. Then shining second gear she gets her nose up into a riddle "tell me I'm star material, Will."

"Heh Anita ... Will ... the bastard coulda killed me ..."

"Center stage." Scranton with a paw on Bowers gold lame shoulder, "you're gonna be great," and the Camero wheels out leavin' those four local stars in a ball'a gas too bad it ain't hotter but I'm too busy thinkin' least somebody woulda locked the coffin for them - whose gonna be great what stage and where at a dog-joint diner?

We nudge across Sunset - it glows halogen white and red-streaked where bumper-ta-bumper Beemers musta been waiting for a movie-star cause only the Limos moved. Not whores lounging pastel stairs: a huge building got VIRGIN written in neon least they know the word. Two blocks cross the strip scruff, low brick warehouses drop away to a metal-frame twist oblong the front graffiti scrawled with


fresh stucco covers four turrets sticking up at the corners maybe they pray ta Allah - maybe that's why he don't come 'round recent. We're past before I can squeeze eyeballs proper before I can light the Red our Camero grabs sharp on a hill curving left, and we angle up. Then black bingo the shutter falls palm trees thick as three Jacks at Sauls casino all losers. I missed the open gate and gargoyles till we slid past cause they made it too easy ta get in I was thinking all deep, softedge shadow. Shadow hiding tall brick walls not so easy ta get out of like bad intentions then flat gardens of California poppies layered into the hillside and streetlights come on. I seen the style before on raped sand dunes.

What was natural ain't no more ... D-O-R-S-E-T D-I-N-E-R flashes neon. The building slung behind chrome-glass panels cut into the hill curve, etched glass raffishly escorted by redcap valets musta been a dozen churning the brick pavement. Two goons lushed in tweed haberdash and baggy silk maybe they worked there too. The boin would'a been in the road if ya got to drive through the heat lamps. A silver Rolls in front of us lurches away just missing the frail escorted by an old man dried out as a fig. Two Armani suits talk behind glass too fast after they seen us pull up whose the amateur not me but what do they know? I feel better. Below the city spreads out electric sunlight sparkling from polished, broken shells. Stars twinkle. A new man in town gets impressed - a new girl, too ... It's a swell place where money doesn't grow on trees cause they can't afford it. It tied me in up knots who figures first one gonna get slipped on here.

Bowers tipped the valet and he drove off fast I thought I saw a fiver tell me no zero like 5-0 she coulda got wash-N'-wax. Scranton walked in front to a mat're-de-type he had a reservation tied down that's what I needed right now up-and-down what reservation I'm asking cause there really were beside the curb and limos and valets three joints each as different as the first three days of yer ex-wifes PMS.

Class and crass and long-in-the-tooth. Behind a frost-glass roto-door with two nudes three joints outside-in ... each got their own small neon flasher: F-R-E-N-C-H- F-R-Y-S in the middle, B-A-R-B-Y-S-Q on the left and O-N-O on the right I ain't never eaten one of those. The outdoor cafe extends left-right across fronts of all three, but behind gas lamps and tables real linen too musta been Dutch linen from the frill-work no bare-ass leopards anyway. Fact is the dames all look kinda sweet more leg than boob - most with a fella. Inside the middle joint chrome swatches over mahogany about thirty feet high. A wall mahogany that too separates it from stained glass windows to the right with pictures like Picasso got drunk once -

"Take yer coat Mr Levine," said the kerb-girl who oughta been inside - "nice hat I ain't seen one like that since Brooklyn."

Knows my name, huh ... I say "Whose beatin' the drums, sweetheart, or I got a laundry tag showin'?"

"Yer on the reservation list, Mr Levine ... you and the lady ..." she rapped steel-heel stilettos on the brick go figure lacy, little-girl socks her voice sweetened "... and it's Velma to you ..."

Velma, huh ... she was showing a black box hat over yellow ringlets and flashy white teeth. A black leather skirt stopped north a' skinny knees Jeez they must stay busy and a pushup bra 36 at least. It shot like a 45 BOOBS HERE ... who's gonna miss, but talk? I thought these Hollywood dames all took diction. I kept it on. "No, sweetheart, I like my head hot, but a pack-a smoke ..."

She gives me half-a sweet-tooth "sure Mr Levine ... ya looks like a man like's 'em Straight" she coulda lost the eyeball batting mascara brows, but Straights? I'm gonna gag. "Any Virginia blend ... long as they're Red, sweetheart no camel-turd."

"Gotcha," she sez walking away "just where ya like it ..."

Bowers had an elbow in my ribs "no nibbling, Sam ..." then my arm frowning. She's nibbling my ear sounds like "be a tourist for Gawd sake loosen up" Jeez who ever made a woman happy still I check the zipper whose loose? We're supposed ta be bug-eye! Her eyes point anywhere but straight ahead. "Hungry right away, Sam or do you want to play?"

I stare through the glass wall. Of the three establishments this must be the diner burgers need not apply - Gold edge plates are all big and where fishskin isn't black chops are small " don't look kosher ta me, sweetheart."

"Everything through here gets bled, Sam" sez Scranton he's telling me nothin'! I bug peepers follow the eyes those two suits had on us since the start. "Time to meet a few pals, Sam."

Bowers and I follow him through the roto-doors Scranton swings easy, the suits treat him like he swum up stream all month. Two fishermen, the suits ... they get introduced as Messrs Zeckle and Clyde tall blond white, flashy teeth smiles they do business.

"First time in Hollywood," asks Clyde shaking my hand?. "Call me CC for short, and my associate Zek."

CC and Zek, huh ... I'da called them sewer pipes. His partner Zeckle a head shorter beady eyes like rifle barrels have beads took the city-cruise around Bowers subtle like he coulda just grabbed her halter ... "and this must be ... your girlfriend Anita ..." he's got peepers up-and-down, but mostly eyestrain pawing her bare cinnamon shoulders bingo!

"I hope you liked the pictures, Mr Zeckle," fawns Bowers. "I know, pretty conservative. He wouldn't let me go ... go all the way, my boyfriend ... what a prude. He wanted to meet you first, before ... but, I want to show just how I ... I explode!".

Zek drooling ... his fat mouth puffed out CC explodes. "Pure!" His fat hands pawed air Bowers had her bracelet in an eyewink roped around that paw - how'd she do the half-hitch I never saw fast as a panther scratches and yanked his arm forward ... giggles bust out , " pure F-U-N is what I want to tie into ..." I thought Zek wuz gonna gag ... "... but then only Sam knows ALL my tricks ..." good mood I'm think'n G-d only when she's in a good mood no end-a-the-moth ropy-pms for me.

It's the 28th ... "Yeah, CC," I punch in "she knows all the tricks!"

Zek struggling at the rope got attention. One of the silk-baggy goons grunts his way by how close is too close. But Zek is loose with a face-flush that cleans sewers and rubbing his wrist, brushing off the goon I'm thinkin' he had 50-yards ...

Zek straightening the Armani and crooning ... "She's some beauty, isn't she CC. Like an unpicked daisy." He pinches a bit of red from Bowers cheek. She's primping - he's got a mouth open "Even without makeup ... a natural ... especially without ... ." He coulda broke a tooth what he didn't say natural what I'm thinking this sewer-rat didn't get born, but broke the test-tube. Zek's looking up at his associate " find a jeweler, will ya CC? The girl can't wear Swiss Army ... order a Piaget ..." he's pawing Bowers wrist like he's the chrome chef and she's the gourmet-girl baste and turn easy ...

I can feel the duo work. "Maybe Anita would like to see the book store," sez CC "while you and I shoot some 8-ball." He's pointing left, through a rose menagerie and rosewood gate toward the bad Picassos .

Then toward the O-N-O ... "I'm sure Ms Bowers will be interested. The books are all coffee-table originals, Mr Levine. The finest art photos ... from Velcro Studios," he winks.

Originals I coulda told them Picasso did horses yeah right, but Greek horses ... . Inside. Cowboys outside I see now musta been filming a western cause the gents all wear leather chaps and gals must be feeding the horses ...

"I don't think ..."

Bowers with her shades pushed up "Oh, Sammy, let boys have their fun," she sez giving me eye-flash from way-back what she seein' I should know before playing along ...

Muscle pushed in close. "If she don't do fun fer me yuk yuk ... just kiddin' chump," and cracked nails "like da goil sez palsy let a goil have fun!"

"No part a' this I don't like," I say out loud where ya can't see so much. The goon got an X-ray wish I had tools ... "You feed this gorilla, CC or just let him pick his teeth?"

"Now Sammy ..."

Bowers leans over, close biting warm at my ear it's clean fresh panther breath "Cats bite too, Sam, I'll be Okey ..." Sister I think that book you wrote then she too out loud "I'm not going to explode, Sam," laughing careless say what, but that's the second time she ain't gonna do that think, Sammy, Jeez will ya think ... The Rolex ticks passed nine-0-five.

"How long," I ask?

"Half-hour, Sam ... I'll come for you."

"She'll be fine with me, Sam," sez Scranton I wouldn't trust that dead fish skinning salmon eggs, but already Zeks leading her into the FrenchFry Scranton in tow and one'a the goons has a paw on my shoulder size of two tarantulas but more hair pushing me behind CC toward the cowboys.

Barby-Qs had a whisky barrel for a door about 9 feet tall of Paso-Robles oak not French I could tell by the grain must keep French stuff next door where fish got burned. The smell wasn't Jack-Black neither, but stale Chardonnay and the charcoal paint was chipping. Velma was waiting, on the inside in a cowgirl ponytail wig and skirt with a lariet for a belt that didn't have much ta hold up "ribs or free range chicken" the Negro gent behind her's shouting over a ten-gallon black hat, "and will that be Chardonnay?"

"Yeah, if it comes with green olives and a twist."

"Olives, sir ...?"

"Just bring a martini."

"Chocolate or strawberry, sir?"

"Look, Hilfiger ...." he has the name tagged to his shirt, " find a bottle with a Turkey picture. Can ya do that? It's got feathers and a beard ... then pour a glass - bring me the bottle ..."

"Very well sir ..." He sez something private ta CC and the goon.

"Some service, huh Mr Levine?" Velma wears clear red plastic cowgirl boots. "Reds for ya ..." she sez handing over the pack a' Pall Malls checked blouse falls open from a turquoise clip who looks?

"Nice hair," I say.

"Velma winks, "I don't wear nothin', Mr Levine I can't take off fast ... for the right gent."

Who's right I'm thinkin' I size her up nose-ta-toes what's changed and what's the same. Now CC and the goon are off following the waiter. "Who let the bird, loose Velma? "

"Probably nothin', Mr Levine. Mr Clyde gets calls here all day long."

"And muscle got ta hold the telephone."

"I never thought a' that, Mr Levine. Maybe it's an old style ..." Velma finds a gold Zippo, for the end of the Red and points cross the room. "Game a' pool, Mr Levine, while the boys are busy?"

Who's busy I ask myself not working harder than this dame ... coast-ta-coast maybe not, but the dame works every piece-a-slate in town ... two Turkeys we grab passing the bar ... pool table's hunched back of the room - corner's dark, two cone lights overhang felt. It's new, the slate flat, chalk worn hand-shape and maple sticks are straight.

"What da ya say, we make it interesting, Mr Levine ..." Velma fumbles at a clip-on purse ... I find a ten in my wallet ... tuck it into the felt crease along the side pocket ... she slides a room-key on top.

"Call me Sammy ..," I take off the porkpie, point at the key "what's that for?"

"A fox in the hen house," she laughs sly. "Take off your jacket?"

The 357 leather case sweats against my spine. "I ain't ready ta shoot, yet, sweetheart."

Her mouth goes all pouty. "What kinda target ya like ... Sammy?"

My best leer ... that's what the dame gets through a cloud of chalk-dust. "No brood-hen sweetheart. Free range ... shoots back and moves when it needs to," I say and rack the ivory.

"Free range," Velma giggles? "I ain't surprised ... CC said you and the frail were ... frisky!" Fingers smoothed over her neck. "I got all the ammunition I need right here," she says tapping the turquoise clip - a finger slides over her powdered nose. "Got plenty ta make ya ... explode ..." Velma picks a short, heavy stick - breaks from a side angle running lo-ball 2-ta-6 with quick, strong wrist-shots then misses the long, straight corner shot.

"How does it explode, Velma ... I mean the photos ... the business?" I'm against the oak panel wall making a Red burn slow, leaning and watching action from her I don't see a missed angle and from CC and the goon they vaporized.

"Which business is that, Sammy? If you wanna get done, La will do the business."

"How 'bouts the business a' plucking free chickens?"

Velmas eyebrow arched and the eyeball said 'pay here'. She sauntered back ... "That the way you and the frail see it? Cautious sorts aren't ya now ... Didn't CC tell ya before ya came?"

"He didn't give no real name to it. Fresh models wanted for La glamour photos that's what the ad read - that's his spiel on the horn. I read plenty - skin, T&A ... none a' the hard-stuff though. The girlfriend don't want none a' that. She's a nice girl ..."

"Aren't they all ..." Velma dusts her hands slides close paw on my shoulder and no space in between. "Yeah, well I know you and the black dame ain't tourists. She really your girlfriend?"

"Tuesday nights ... only Tuesday nights."

"Ain't that always the truth ..." I lit a Red for her, and she sucked lung, kinda whorled on the boot-toes and smacked up close. " So yer a smart guy, huh ... well, she's sweet, really ... sweet for this town. The kind of girl some studios would kill for ..."

Like the Red from her mouth, she let that dangle ... I took the bite. "That what CC and Clyde are looking for - some one ta kill?"

Velma swanked away. "Nothing like that here, Sam, or anywhere ... snuff films are fiction, make-believe. Ya got to got to Brazil or Amsterdam .... But fake-snuff is even more common than really, fresh sweeties. Ya seen many recent?"

"I seen twenty one time with Mother Terresa."

"That's funny, ya look like a Jew ta me, not a Catholic."

"Same thing - Catholics borrowed a rabbi 2000 years ago - we'll get him back. Two-thousand years ain't nothin' for a Jew."

"You're in a hurry now, though."

"Yeah, well, the girlfriend's rack ain't got 2000 years ... not the glossies I sent ta CC. He wanted local talent and sweet what he said - then he sends five-yards and a pair a' plane tickets."

"How generous ... "

Yeah, a regular Mother Teresa, but you still ain't said nothin' about the business."

"So how would I know?" Velma looked down, then away, then burned half-a-lung and the smoke billowed out like she wuz having bad dreams. "Alright, Okey ya need a PhD in porn? Here's class-101. Banks hide in Manhattan, photographers and studios hide nowhere in La, working beside the skin-techs what make good look great. Mostly Linux byte-pervs - weenies, what made 'em makes everyone else gag."

"Yeah, Velma, I know the type, but who distributes?"

"Oh, the servers? Web-servers in Amsterdam ... where Linux is cheap ... they don't use a SuSe beaver fer nothin' ... That's the tech."

"Sez you, sweetheart."

"Sez me, Einstein. I used ta be a coder fer Red Hat - til Microsoft bought them. Still listening?

Now the faces? What pervos want is fresh, innocent faces - faces and skin, T&A nobody's seen, but the mirror ... " Velmas heel dug pits in the oak floor. "Good luck! Every Iowa girl ever showed a tit already showed it twice. Same everywhere."

It plays easy. "Got ta be some Montana farm girls looking for a thrill."

"No more. They all write software or clone sheep."

"Or the Russians ... they starve ..."

"Yeah, the women all look like starved goats, what the Russian mafia doesn't handle - all the rest too weak ta pose and too tired ..."

That I let slide ... "What about the ghettos ... barrios ...?"

"Used to be, but Latin girls got smart - too much money for a babe muling coke and fresh tomatoes." Velma wheeled round the cue stick. "You see, Sammy ... how desperately skin studios need the innocent face. Can't get it noway, nohow ... two days of fresh skin's worth a million ... more ... they'd do anything ..."

Anything ... how much that hurts my brain I ain't thinking got ta stay cool ... "Ain' it a pain, when tomatoes are fresher than the faces."

Velma hacks end-a-the-Red and butts it out. "You got it, sparkler-brain. So fresh skin ain't so important, when ya can't get it. Make a list: suckee-fuckee will do even if the girl's got tire-tracks on her ass. That too gets worn down - so the girls go kinky, fetish ... gas masks and spray-on red latex is the thing right now."

"That the end of it."

"Yeah, until the Jappo bondage guys showed up - ropes ... they ain't for cowgirls any more," she laughed twirling the lariet belt. "The Jappos with rope and the Dutch with scream-gags ..."

"Who screams if you're having fun? And what happens next ..."

Velma twists her head away, hammers on the wood floor with her toe. "Yeah, well ... whose having fun?"

Jeez she was hammering me with the rack so I couldn't breath - I pinched a nipple ... she gasped and bit half-though the Red and sunk nails into my arm.

I backed away. "Me, sweetheart, while I run the table."

"Don't say a girl didn't give ya a chance." She flounces over to a stool and cross-legs sucking scotch and a lipstick smear Red smiling ... watching I didn't need the Hollywood sign for that message.

I missed the first shot, a soft, side-pocket combo the Rolex got a mouth two-feet across and it's screaming ten-0-five one hour what happened ta the other half?

"Not so hot, Sammy, for an ambitious man," Velma croons while the check blouse talks big her bending over to rap in the 7 side pocket easy - she misses the 8 cross table again. Bam-bam-bam I noodle 9, 10 and eleven off the 13 far corner nice touch, leave against the rail. The 12 goes in-and out the near side pocket, "crappola ..."

"You and me, Sammy ... we need inspiration," she sez tapping the turquoise clip with a red nail and pointing through a back door onto what looks like a patio. She's dragging the stick like last Tuesdays lottery ticket and pushes careless at a yellow curl. "You and me, flying quick Sammy like astronauts on a nose-rocket!"

"Astronauts! What part a' the moon I ain't seen, sweetheart and my nose is plenty big ..."

"You ain't seen it strapped in with me! Oh, Sammy, don't be a poo ...."

A round-heel rocket ready to explode that's Velma ... her face flush, shoulder pressing close the oak door closes behind us. Like a hurricane hits ... the warm, wet sweet smells of Hollywood Hills. Days warmth hadn't left patio slate - sage and pine and palm lead up the hill. Between them sits a redwood bench, planks wore smooth and round between the cracks. How Hollywood launches astronauts where's the fuel?

I light a Red. It glitters. Velma drags and tosses it away. The snort's on her glass mirror wavy white lines she wipes two clean. Good stuff who knows? My turn the first hits like ice-tipped spring breakers off Isle-a-Palms. A white frost tide cold-edged, it knocks my head back. Stars in LAs night sky are shooting stars and desert wind blows for a thousand miles. Velma laughs and leans back where the check blouse falls open ... breasts pale pearl where her body bends, then twists away hiding giggles ...

What women hide I don't need ta think, but not the red-smeared butt of a Red crushed into brick at my feet, or the scrolly ball stuffed between redwood slates. Where the lez sat. It glitters silver Jeez Sammy if ya can move ...

Swing-ass I lunge low, forward toward Velma. My left hand gotta stab at the holster pressing my back and the maple stick whistles overhead Velma ain't smiling now. Maple cracks and shatters on the palm tree coulda been my head not hers. Too hard ... her face is all hard lines and her wig second or third I ain't so sure gone awry but her socks ain't changed. Steel toe headed for my face that I brush aside. I got the S&W pawed out - it's a hammer meant ta drive hot lead nails into flesh not me ... split second split funny what would the Lieutenant do why ain't he here neither I don't want to know? Velma ... she's a killer flying body parts at me, but my arm's swinging the piece ... it's a hammer and I hit her flat in the nose all steel cylinders sideways, all shoulder a shock ripples through bone breaks like they teach Tuesday nights at the Y.

It's silent. How clear is the La sky like black glass and smells the innocent smells of far way

desert. My Rolex sez 10-twenty-five. I drag Velma into the bushes behind the redwood bench. She's bloody and breathing ... I can't hit her face again ... but I rifle her purse and get nothing. Her wallet has three yards and a condom. Behind the drivers license is a business card that reads


Nice copy, bet the new hides get tanned ... maybe Velma. Her blouse rips easy, for a gag and her belt for a truss rope-burn I don't consider. Rolex ticks like church-bells ... whose gonna be on the patio soon not me. Eight-ball still on the table - I'm looking around - don't miss Sammy. Velma? Good luck, sweetheart. Who set me up cheap not you! Whose check cashes ta get me out? The 357-S&W rolls in my palm sticky blood sweat ... rolls back into its holster never made a man twice anything. I dust nose candy from the bench, pocket the crushed silver ball Sargent Bowers got ta use only once and head legs up the palm covered hill.


I grunt and sweat like a trussed pig. Twenty yards up the hill planted palms give way to pine and a forest of rotted, hobo boxes. Scruff grows thick. I find cactus it cuts through pants and skin no Chinese health-needle, but I felt worse. Then a rocky swale falls off south and down the hill. It's got two kinds of big rocks, round that slam my shins and flat cutters. I follow it bleeding ankles maybe two of each is enough ta get off the hill. The swale gullies head-high. Where it goes that's two questions one I know. Toward the brick wall and gate and gargoyles - toward Velcro Studios - toward Sargent Bowers hold on sweetheart Christ-on-a-Cross sometimes ya hope he got nailed up for somethin' ... I don't need a compass for that and I got ears like lens got fisheyes so I miss the rattlesnake it was looking for rats me too it rattles and snakes away. It's got a program me too. I wish it luck it don't need - that program got written when people were lemurs not rats mine started ... think Sammy! Make no mistake here, Sammy-boy I'm thinkin from the time Jimbo barfed ta the rattlers tail the program started when?

Scuttling the gulch takes lifetimes stuffed into ten-minute-ticks a' the Rolex I stick low ta cover til scruff gives out. Swale turns mud bottom from the poppy-gardens draining water. I cheat up the side, in shadow-cover figuring the goons mighta found Velma already and have eyes on the sharp. Maybe they know downhill is the only way I'd go ... maybe they know how my La vacation got Xed not Oed not me yet think Sammy ...

On my left, worn brick wall slides out from pine and palms closing in, closer it's like a clock I don't need running fast. How fast? Who runs?

Gimme a list I don't need. Bullet one Sargent Bowers how tight-ass a Charleston copper she wears an elastic, eel-skin gun-belt never felt the shock bet the ell did. Now ... Bowers the rav, the star boys fun for CC and Clyde. Bullet two Velma the cowgirl, cigarette girl, Velma the bag-bitch in Nikes and lace shorties she never got ta take off . Velma the hit-girl and finger. Velma stitched ta me like velcro ... Velma with a studio contract stitched ta me! So the gig's blown like party balloons blow up pop-pop-pop when I hit LaX ! Nailed n' tailed ... What about the liquor store punk I can't figure, if it's only peepers bein' put on me? Now the Rolex ticks ... how much time I got who knows too much and what happens ta Sargent Bowers I already got figured - what she shoulda known I got no idea why not ... but too little time and goons gonna stomp me like scrolly silver balls gets stomped into redwood benches.

Siren wail and headlights patch curving asphalt - two more sets follow and a search-light strobes over my head, road lays to the right across rose beds and poppies more sirens Jeez La always got accidents. People where they shouldn't be say it ain't you, Sammy ... I'm moving faster now. Three levels below hundred yards maybe I make out steel-work from the gates. They're slammed shut and a barrel-like shadow shuffles along them legs and head thick as a gargoyle maybe they're brothers ... I'm climbing over redwood divides between the flowers and so naked under dead clear night stars that blind crows could pick my bones I gulp nice thinkin' Sammy and lunge desperate back across the gully now a knee-high wash and flatten against brick wall three palms have grown together and hang low. Wall's twelve feet high I'd need stilts. Tar stink sweet.

I catch shadows ... more headlights moving slow like engine grind and a strobe washes bright streaky light over me stretched out between the palms. How cold is frozen? The strobe washes ice into my veins and seeing nothing moves down the line, crosses bales of palm frond jerking away to concrete gargoyles at the gate. I can feel the eyes who cares they only look out, or that stone heads can't turn around. What's ta think the 357-S&W slides out ... a withdraw from the bank of good intentions dark now.

Sliding forward, out of shadows I can make the palm bails before the next headlights pass sure of it quick steps now ducking low I gotta good cat-paw creep from creeping motel parking lots. More headlights - their rolling down around the bend in the road, slow and the strobe flashes ON washing a beam high on the palm-tops whose the monkey? Fast, Sammy ... Jeez here it's a nightmare so hard ta move my foot catches slick, heavy goo suck I yank out clouds of tar stench sweet and sick. Yeah I was falling - that kinda slow-motion tumble ya take in dreams when gargoyle breath runs hot on yer neck, and red bead-eye pokes yer skull ...

There's taste-a-salt on my lip, and smells of tarry palm-fronds under my face. And a frost ice-pik presence hanging in the soft Los Angeles night. I lift a cheek.

"Tar killed the big cats too, Sammy ..." shoots whispering over my left shoulder. It comes from nowhere, the whisper bouncing off brick walls ...

"That you, Lieutenant?"

More grit drawl. "Another couple steps you're museum quality year 3000. You, the Rolex and Smith & Wessen."

"Tar pit that deep, huh ..." Biology, not archeology I'm thinking. Stretched out I'm 5' 3" not 5' 2" like the sister sez, and IQ bent up like the brain is now don't give me a test. What weight I got's stuck ta the ground say it ain't sinkin' ... How much and how fast do I think not nothin' but sure, when I figure it adding 2s together it figures ... Nicky wouldn't crap out. Clamp-jaw maybe I should, but whispers hiss between my teeth. "I ain't never been good on display, Lieutenant, stuffed n' mounted so how 'bouts takin' me off the wall."

At least the bastard grunted ... " no better way, Sammy. Down the trail Wild Turkey's on my tab."

"Charleston ... start there. We coulda been a team not the three stooges ..."

"They survive ... In Charleston I didn't know shine from shoes. Then ... perps moved faster than me."

"Maybe they had help. I just split the Dorset Diner, top-a-the hill. Got razz from a frail with steel toes and a pool-stick. She wanted ta use it for my nose-ring."

"Didn't know you wore one."

"Dames keep try'n ta talk me into it ... who knows what makes them hot these days ... I keep it in the closet, like you been keeping the straight-squeal from me." That got nothing from DeLeon me mouth full'a dirt, shoes full'a tar, I ain't thinkin' where the broom-handle went ... sometime I'm gonna get mad, when breathing comes easier that the bastard DeLeon got ta offer gag-me bourbon for a copper grift who sez I wouldn't a' played along? Sure I was planning a vacation no make that two. I got fingers pointed cross at Nicky one up. "Good guys in the dark, bad guys getting a suntan. The gal tried ta give me maple lip ginned me earlier at LaX."

"You sure of that?"

I scruffed up ta one knee. "Sure as a pink nose don't make a rabbit! Smelled like a hit, her gig back-a-the diner, and not the first muscle put on me tonight!"

"Yeah, I got ringside ... nasty piece the Dutchman carries."

"Dutchman! How ... ?"

"Scranton - on the horn. That's how I figured to wait here for you!" Nicky's got sympathy like a melting iceberg grab-the-oars. But Scranton - parta setting me up! I'da squeezed his gills til salmon spawned ... that thought not slowing down the Lieutenants rap. "The girl wasn't your only mistake. You damned-near killed the Dutchman ... point of the whole sting, cause he's art director for Velcro Studios!"

How fast pieces fell together faster than fresh skin gets old. "That two-bit creep? He's the snuff guy?" I stood up, brushed off. "Him I had figured for janitor at needle park! And I don't hear much sympathy from you cause I had a tough time ... it's my neck!"

"Ya want to see neck stretch keep talking ... but the Dutchman? Yeah, same creep - for a white guy he fancies himself a natural man."

Nicky sez 'natural' like tobacco-spit ... for a man who was natural say abouts the 15th century that says plenty what's natural now. Who got the kinks - who got ta straighten 'em. I could see Nicky now, kneeling across oily, black puddles black sweater, straw Panama and camo pants talking low and fast that script I coulda wrote.

But Nicky's hissing ... "Way I see it the Dutchman was testing you - the boyfriend ... trying to decide what crap you would take. How fast his grift on Bowers had to move. But ya took no crap, Sammy and that scared him. After ya rolled him, pretty clear he decided Bowers had to go-for-the-rope tonight! " Nicky's scratching serious at the dark Panama. "When did Bowers and Scranton leave the Dorset Diner?"

"Now that's a problem ..."

"What happened ta Bowers and Scranton after ya kiboshed the frail?"

My head yanks up as an engine roars. HummVe edging alone, then pulls off the road toward us crunching flowers and splashing flash ahead. Maybe I coulda stayed down, and him stay dumb, but after a while suck-face dirt tastes bad. What time we got for palaver not none. "Nicky, I don't do nothin' after nothin' with Bowers. She sez she's Okey and goes palaver with couple'a swells in the main cafe, Scranton with her while I get the side-trip only who knew that!"

"Just her and Scranton? Thought you were going ta stay close to the girl, Sammy?" He don't say it disgusted or disappointed or not nothin' just how it was.

I say "Yeah, sure Lieutenant close like her boyfriend not her girdle." Girl? 'Heh girl' gets a mans nuts busted from Bowers ... Hey it's dark I can't see nothing only Nickys jaw and pale southern chin I seen both turn ash in the dark like he was gettin' dimmer ... how dim is a butt smoked down ta lipstick smear? I held the crushed silver ball, and fingered right where he might be "Listen up, Lieutenant. Anita scammed this from punks at the liquor store. Where Scranton called you. Only reason I survived was finding this stuck between bench-slats just before the dame made her move."

"So they snatched Bowers ... "

"Yeah, well maybe, but ..."

The Lieutenant growls. "Snatched! Anywhere but Velcro Studios?"

Thinking straight like an icepick, who gets in the way of tired words bit off bitter? I shook my head. "Nowhere else! That's where the dame works, tried pulling my plug and where art books get produced for the cafe." I felt for the 357 ... "Bowers fights like a panther ... unless they drugged her ..."

"Drugged? Probably not ... the Dutchman likes natural horror ..."

"So how much time we got, Lieutenant?"

"Half what I figured ..." jaw stuck out, working ... "figure forty minutes, till the knot slips."

I'm gonna get sick ... not now, and who slipped that number ta Nicky how long ta tie a knot then slip it ... "what about him," I thumb at the approaching lights.

"Looks like a ride to me. Get up and show some leg, Sam while I drag tail dim."

UP - LEG! What I just heard I can't believe a young guy like me with years ahead ... sure I got legs ... whose got guts not me. It ain't tar on my balls tar don't freeze Nicky slipping away to the right, while the HummVe pulls stop twenty yards away and bright strobe flashes right down my neck.

I stand up shouting, "heh big fella, tuna-breath how bouts a lift; this tar wreckin' my shoes."

Comes a grunt. "I ain't no tuna-breath."

"Sez me! Stick your head in the ground ... and watch flowers grow."

He mighta been 7 foot tall one'a the gargoyle brothers he hops out of the HummVe lights and engine running and swings down through the poppies ... Swaggering gimp-leg fat slacks bulging and swingin' a baseball bat I don't see no baseball but my head. I step into the headlight beams. He shouts "so there youse are, ya little nosy fuck we been lookin' fer ya ..." How fast did he get close shark-teeth and breath came with the crap-mouth "Christ yer gonna get hurt I gotta bring yer ass back with me ... but who figures the head gotta come with it?"

So he gotta damage the pork-pie too, huh ... I took it off and dusted. "That ain't no way ta talk, big fella, in the City of Angels."

"Angels my ass! I talked worse ta the Nigger bitch, yer goilfriend puttin' da muscle on not like I'd like ya know that's fer Dutch ... so where you been, weisenheimer?"

"Call her what, ya piece-a-tunashit!"

"Tunashit oh very funny Jewboy ... yer gonna beg for an oven ... " He's five feet away reaching up and over me ... " ... what da fu ..." with the bat swinging head turning Nicky a steel moonbeam sliding in from the side I seen Nicky dim before fist flying hits him steel bone-breaker in the face goon goes down that beanball I wish I threw. Cheek twitching beneath poppy flowers then nothing.

Hats pulled low I got the wheel, Nicky shotgun. He points goon baseball bat out the window. Gate goon waves us through maybe the gargoyles winked. Below, white-stucco turrets of VELCRO STUDIOS rimmed palm-tops. The long asphalt curve falls behind us like coffee into a mug no hurry just no spilled time. At the studio main gate two goons patrol a tire-rip entrance ... another inside a box - I pull past, then off and up a side-street to the rear gate. It sez DO NOT ENTER go figure ... Inside a yellow security lamp shines down on a waterfall. An oily pool reaches from gate to building and seems to run under ....

Gate's a hard-point. Steel bars and both punch-code locks shine brass. Razor wire guards the top. Two Rotweilers sit on their haunches inside they ain't been fed recent no way. Shaving their teeth with thin, pink tongues.

"They expecting you, Sammy?"

I take that personal. "Sure, Lieutenant I seen gates before, and locks ... and I seen dogs too. Every bimbo SOB got one ... Rots, German Shepard ... Pit-bulls, they sleep with 'em, when the married boyfriend don't come round who knows what they prefer?"

Nicky's scowling ... honest men can do that. Dogs or boyfriends what a PI learns doing business mostly he don't like and who writes it down? I got lock picks, in the zip-pocket, and I got pills for the bimbos case they feel guilt about screwing a marriage and wanna talk ... talk bleeding hearts ta me baby happens once-a-year ...

I point at the Rots. "Feed 'em couple a' these, Lieutenant", and lean forward to drop two green caps in Nicky's paw.

Shiny, smooth green gelatin. They say ARGENTINA in faint scroll, but I think the little green men what lives inside ain't never been there. No time recent ...

DeLeon thumbs the caps around. "These government approved, Sammy?"

"Yeah, sure. Lieutenant. The CIA been usin' them since '56."

"On dogs?"

I shrug. Dogs ya got ta feed good ... Nicky sidles up ta the gate. From the Rots shadowing other side come low whines and teeth snapping. Jaws poke through the bars snapping quick-hand Nicky drops a green cap in each one and for a minute all ya can hear is jaws chew. Then the howling started! Jaws meant ta rip fingers try'n ta rip holes in the sky ... mutts tear-ass for the pool dive and swim for it to the waterfall where they hide underneath - who knows what Nicky and I look like now ta them? Or maybe the Rots remembered what they expected when dogs first picked humans as pals ... and what they got instead. Welcome ta the world, pals ...

Twenty seconds, maybe it takes me to grift both gate-locks. Blue lights flash on the door straight ahead when the steel-bars swing.

Nicky in a straight fast rap. "Brush off the muscle, Sammy bust through and get as close as possible to the Sargent."

"Sure Lieutenant, I got plenty a' muscle brush goons away like flies ..."

On which he sez nothing ... "shoot the ropes first, if it comes ta that," I figured that out already.

We go through pieces out. "Which rope, Lieutenant?"

Whose Einstein he doesn't say ... Clamp-jaw serious now, no mouth-flap crappola '... we go in fast and hard ... shoot ta kill ... read rights ... ' none-a-that it's something more and less than a copper drill ... we're Draino clear-the-clog ...

For a smart man Nicky packs a standard copper 40-caliber Colt auto-load it takes six motions ta fire a first shot who cares about the second when your dead. The 357-S&W I got glued to my right paw is different ... it kills first time ya think about it. Shoots heavy too, like the security door flashing blue light we stand 10 feet away. Noise is not a factor not now. The second 140-grain slug sends the lock scattering how slugs rip through is a terrible thing, really coulda been flesh no-hinges-no-repair and we pound against the door, it cracks back twisted brass and we're through into a padded, fluorescent corridor.

Alarms sound too bad ya slow suckers. We pass locked doors with black view windows, feet pounding vinyl around a corner the corridor splits in a -Y- like the still body of a security guard face down in the -Y- one leg pointed each directions and yards away against the right corridor wall Will Scrantons bloody head slumps on his curled up knees.

Nicky gets pulses, first the uniform then Scranton ... a uniform means something ta him ... Scranton's moaning incoherent. "Something's loose ..."

Yeah ... something ... "Nicky I got this feeling ..."

His breath comes short and hot. "Minutes is what we have ..." Listen ta me hell no. His eyes are tearing at the two directions. "Go left Sammy, I'll take the right."

"But Scranton wouldn't ..."

"Go, Sammy, go!..."

Running hard whose got the goose chase me if Pall Mall smoked itself ... if panthers spawn not salmon. I'm hearing Nickys footsteps get lost in the walls. Mine sound like explosions. The corridor L-turns and double doors at the end have a red-light-flashing SHOOT-IN-PROGRESS winks neon who needs a postcard? The viewport glows faintly - lights seeps where a shim props open a crack. Licia Micro out from zip pocket shoots probable-cause twice I slip it away no-damned-liar.

I stop dead pounding breath now not feet. Hacking lung-tar and shout "Nicky!" Echos ... echos only ... I yank the doors wide open. A stench of body sweat washes out, I step inside only a step peeling eyeballs doors close behind me. How alone is alone? Hells got ta be crowded, but two's plenty ... sometimes ... The room is cluttered and red-lit and filled with silent tapping. Cut-out wood shapes rise floor to ceiling. Stars show dim through a skylight, and kleig lights on a rail above are dark except for a pair glowing more red-heat than light. Just two that's plenty - lights, camera, action .

Lights point toward a basin sunk into the room middle, where tar bubbles - reflections wash fluorescent curls into ropes strung above it. Wash over the naked body strung in and around and through the ropes ... lungs heave without struggle in them, but it has my eyes sucked in - the hopelessness of it ... a curtain stretches up behind the figure and hoses lead out ... my foot kicks into a soft place, and reaching down I find soft parts - legs and arms and torso head seems to have ... exploded. I can hear things now.

Suck of a cigarette being exhaled, and the bright red tip glow on an overhead mirror. Maybe I heard that too, before I saw it. The piece I don't need now - I put it to sleep in leather, and pick my way past center-stage, where heat-lamps make fat sweat crawl over my neck and the hanging body floats motionless over an oozing, bubbling, runny black hole that for all its stink wants mostly just ta suck ... now, I see that too owl-eyes I never had ... no smart owl, that's you Sammy boy ...stay close, Sam cause she's just a frail ...

A frail turned dusky in afterglow. Where she been cops got shrinks ta fix. Where she is ... one burning light hung directly over her head sitting cross-leg with those hard-curve legs in a tan-leather lounge dragging deep on the Red. Gold Lame she musta lost somewhere ... and the ropy rhinestones, but over the dressing-gown cinnamon shoulders show only the faintest, brown curve. Only the chrome-plate Derringer shines; it rests easy on her lap, and nails tap the trigger-guard.

Words I choke out, feeling empty echo. "I got your message, sweetheart, the scrolly ball and the butt. Bet the last cigarette tasted good."

What laughing returns I don't want ta figure. But the same person, Sargent Bowers ... Anita ... yeah right I stop now half-way cross the room standing steady ... What's happening I tried ta tell Nicky. The panther got loose. What's it ta you, Sammy ... ? I put the Zippo on a Red let lung burn, and turn toward the suspended figure. "Ain't Hollywood swell, huh Sargent? Looks like a real body hanging there, instead of a prop. Couldn't be real ... not real, Anita, could it cause it ain't movin' too good."

The lounging figure curls a bit. "Oh it's real Sam ... I took two grams of coke from the silver ball and hid it in a straw. The bastard ... he's got it stuck up his ass."

"Two grams, huh. He ... uh ... yeah, well maybe that figures how it ... he... got so stiff. How long it ... he been hangin'?"

"Hanging ... oh, the Dutchman? Half-hour."

She said it loose, disconnected, like her brain wuz floating in the air ... like something else had happened ... "How did you get loose?"

"I hurt people."

"Some pervo's blocking the doorway - lotta damage ..."

Anita wiped away, a line of teary sweat from her forehead. "Some luck, huh? After I kiboshed the Dutchman one bodyguard ran, the other grabbed his auto-load - tried ta shoot me and ..."

"Lost his head, huh ... well, bad master bad dog."

"I hurt people, Sam ..."

Said flat faced it stops me dead, anyway I ain't in no hurry ta get closer ... Hurt, yeah ... who got hurt when whose the perp? Licia-Micro slips out again snap-snap-snap shoots lack-of-intent the perv's still alive got Bowers cigarette glow on the side. How this ends who knows damned lies been told Satan come and gone.

I shag it and say "Guess Nicky and me seen the damage ..." I choked down another lungfull Jeez Sammy, choked? What-are-ya-think'n better think fast with the razz right about now? "Give a guy muscle cramps, hanging around so long. I got an ex like that ... I hang around her an hour and I got cramps for a week. Maybe you should ... Maybe we could cut him down? How did ya get him up there at all?"

"It's all in the books Sam, all the knots and the hydraulics are behind the curtain." Something she seemed ta remember. "Is Will Okey?"

"Yeah, when he stops bleedin'. Guess he ran into the other bodyguard. He still with us? Always?"

Kinda dreamy she says. "In his own way ... Will does have a way with knots!"

Like a big thing, I make it and start toward her. "Jeez, Anita, then it's science like Star Wars ... or Mr Wizard. How 'bouts we put the Wizard back in the bottle?"

The Red glowed bright on her lips and fingers circled on the derringer. "That's Genie, Sam and it's lizard, not Wizard." Bowers waves grope-finger toward the Dutchman. "And how he comes down from the ropes I've been thinking about the last half-hour."

"That tough, huh ... maybe we wait for Nicky. He's good at science and ...."

Her voice snapped sharp and harsh and too old for a dame only a girl. "NO! Nicky can't have anything to do with this! It's just another case to him. No interference is what I want ... None from him and none from you, Sam ..."

Her derringer shuffled. Tell me it's a kitten scratch ... "Just kidding, Sargent I ain't serious when I talk like that nobody here but us two."

"Just us two, Sam and I'm on the couch. A casting couch, Sam. Know what that is ... sure ya do, a bright PI like you ... not a shrinks couch ... no Freud, no Jung no Adler so talk away if you want, but spare me advice."

"Advice hell no not me ... last thing I shrunk was smoke-mackerel that caught fire. Anyway those guys were all Jews had a guilt complex and drank bad coffee gave 'em nerves."

Anitas mirthless, little-girl snicker cracked. "Nerves ... you have nerve, Sam? Well I do, nerve to do right! Do what needs doing ..."

Jeez ... do right? What doing she saw needed ain't been done in any world I know of, or anyone's seen. I hitched my jacket around. "Heh sweetheart waaaait a minute, go easy let me get cappuccino ... decafe ..."

"Quit trying so hard, Sammy ... lighten up!" Bowers laughs a bright, brittle laugh it goes away tiny ringlets of sound. "I know what's right to do!"

"Sez you only."

She points face hardening. "See the two ropes leading left and right? If I shoot the left one he falls down splat kissy-face into the tar pit. No bottom on a tar pit Sam, til ya get to hell! But the bastard will gag for minutes ... one minute alive-awake-dying one minute of hell for each dead girl." She pointed the derringer ... "If I shoot the right ... shoot the right rope he falls down s-n-a-p-o cause his neck can't kissy-face a thing!"

Then what the judge sez I heard already spelled out G-U-I-L-T-Y I take two quick steps "How 'bouts a second opinion? Maybe he's got a chiropractor, huh ... a good one ... Rodeo Drive kiss-and-make better."

"In hell it gets fixed!" Her head shook violent. "It's all in the books, Sam." The Derringer lowered propped on her lap. "That's how the Charleston women were snuffed ... roped up in terror then one rope snapped ... "

She snapped the words off, like rotten rope breaks. "Yeah, murder, the big M-word. I say we got plenty ta toast him for it."

"He's not American, but a Dutch citizen ... Holland doesn't toast its killers ... unless they kill old people. Then they call them doctors."

"Those I seen before ..." She could gut-kick a man more ways than the Dutchman hung down. I gulped air. "I ain't no fan a' that, and no fan a' the big-M. And I especially ain't no fan of a copper gal-friend doing what she came ta stop."

"You don't know why you came here, Sam. Tricks on you."

"Tricks I seen before ... maybe I learn fast. Boyfriends do that."

"I don't even like boys ..." Her face hung down, snapped up ... cheerful. "More Hollywood than Hollywood, Sam, that's what the Lieutenant worked out. That was a game, Sammy from the beginning, a fraud a cheat a grift a hustle ..."

"I done a job here, sweetheart!"

"The job got done on you ... loverboy ..."

How I figure - women don't know adults. What grift she knows? Parts a' that are true ain't now my business just what my part was face-ta-face I'd talk ta Nicky ... sometime just now keep talking Sammy ...

Talk-n-walk like a crawdad ... "Keep talkin' ta me sweetheart I bet fifty clams a week on nags wish they were that honest and a bookie only pay off Thanksgiving and Easter." I took one step, then another toward the imaginary line between Bowers and the Dutchman hanging. "Way I see it sweetheart ya got two months stress-leave coming from the union. Time and money, sister ..." I got ta bite thumb ta stop the hand from shakin' "What-da-ya-say we take a Caribi cruise leave all the girlfriends home. Plenty-a dames would give two feathers for that!" My hand brushed at the jacket edging back toward a leather holster how slick ... "Plenty a' good-times, sweetheart. Sun, sand and double-down weak-16s till yer nose bleeds. Only stiffs ya see are at the craps table ... don't just say yes, sweetheart when ya mean pretty-please ..." Noise in the corridor outside Nickys shouts, Bowers straightening in the lounge just two steps more, heat scorched nape of my neck ... "and case ya don't know how could ya the only snow I need ta rock-n-roll all night is the frost on a martini glass ..."

How much was I there now. Anyway no man can stop a dames bullet-in-the-back if she's hell-fire-bent. Like I told Nicky sure I'd stay close ta the frail my 357-S&W sliding fast by smooth leather up into a sight-line I fired once blowing hell outa the rope ...