By Charles Jacobson
Los Angeles: Friday, April 4, 1958. 8:06 pm. Detective Ken Stricker left his ailing mother at the Valley Hospital, put on a coat and slid into his black ’56 Packard. Vice had been quiet. He caught a 273 and 314 on the scanner, switched it off and dialed in Guy Lombardo.
Veering off Laurel Canyon onto Sunset Boulevard, he stopped in front of the Mocambo, a place known to be on the wild side, and tossed his keys to the valet. “Don’t park it too far.”
Ken ducked in. Mimi waited for him at the bar—tight, low-cut dress, green eye shadow, dangle earrings, heels kicked off. A cowboy in a ten-gallon next to her had Cherries in the Snow smeared on his collar.
Ken placed his stingy-brimmed fedora on the bar. Mimi gave him a look, hitched up her hose and crumpled a napkin note. He cracked his thumbs and zeroed in. She glanced sidelong at the scar over his heavy-lidded eyes, took a drag and opened her mouth wide to let the smoke slowly drift out. She greeted him with a kiss. He tasted tobacco, stale mint and something else.
He grabbed her arm. “Don’t be coy, Mimi. I’ve read this book before.”
“You’re hurting me!”
Ten-gallon tapped the ash from his Maduro; a curly hair dropped into the ashtray. He clenched the cigar in his teeth and bored in under a cloud of smoke, “Son, I’m ridin’ this pony.”
Ken released Mimi. She rubbed her arm. A faraway look crossed Ken’s face. “Cut the static, Cowboy, shouldn’t you be ridin’ the range?”
Ken pulled a snub-nose .38 and beat the cowboy senseless.
Stan cleared the cowboy’s spot at the bar. “I warned the sonofabitch. Told him you were a vet. Sure as hell did.”
Toledo Sue picked up the cowboy’s hat and crushed a cigarette in his ear.
Ken handed the bouncer a twenty, called in a 415 and signaled Stan. Two martinis hit the bar; Mimi reached for hers. He slapped her hand away. “You got no class. If you got somethin’, say it.”
“Forgive me Father for I have sinned. I’ll say four Hail Marys and three Our Fathers.”
Mimi stepped around the comatose cowboy to bum a menthol from Toledo Sue, tossed her dark Italian cut and blew a stream. Ken pushed a martini toward Mimi and gave Toledo Sue a strained look. “What are you in town for?”
“I got a couple fast fillies for Frank. It’s on the record with Tony Z,” said Toledo Sue. “Stan, throw me a clean rag would you?”
She looked at Mimi. “You’re blind—you’re too young. How long before you learn?”
Mimi posed with pouted lips. “There’s something on the side.” “Hold still.” Toledo Sue wiped a speck of blood from Mimi’s cheek. “You’re fine now. Turn ‘round, I’ll fix your hair.”
Ken waited a minute or two and tapped his watch. Mimi finished her drink in one, bumped him and reached into his coat. “You’re building up to something.”
She found her purse and put her green satin pumps on. “How do I look?”
Ken grimaced, “Like a million.”
Mimi snuffed the menthol with her heel, “These shoes are killin’ me.”
Ken showed his badge to the maître d’. “Sinatra’s in the room by the macaw, Lieutenant.” Mimi took a swing step and led the way through the Brazilian-themed dining room, stealing glances at the real-life notoriety. When they reached the padded door behind the bandstand, Rusty Bryant was breakin’ down Night Train. A slick-haired goon in a tight-fitting suit strong-armed them. “Alto. Who are chew?”
Mimi gave a mean look from a bad movie. “Detective Stricker and Mimi O’Brien.”
The goon licked his lips, checked the slip in his ticket pocket and opened the door. “Buenas noches.”
Primitive masks populated the garish-red walls. A portrait of Dom Pedro hung above a teakwood mantel. An Iron Devil completed the look.
Ken’s eyes looked for concealed weapons on the baby sister slouched in a corner; Mimi stared at Sinatra’s stunning blue eyes in his Coppertone face. A B-girl was seated next to him at a circular table draped to the floor with a white tablecloth.
Across from them, Lana Turner in a dazzling white evening gown was having a conversation with a tanned stranger in a silk shirt. Jo, the other B-girl, was on his lap. Serving dishes, half-eaten plates of food, glasses and drinks littered the well-laid table. Sinatra’s girl gestured. “I’m Karin, honey. Frank here is chairman of the board.”
“How d’ya do. Mimi’s my name.”
“A star needs no introduction,” said Karin, looking Lana’s way.
“All stars flicker out, honey—except Frank’s,” cut in Lana. “You’ll see.”
Karin patted the high-backed chair next to her and purred to Mimi, “What’s the matter, sweetie? Bring those fuck-me’s over here. What are they?”
Mimi modeled her pumps for Karin. “Jourdans.”
“Turn around,” said Karin, sizing up Mimi’s bottom.
The bodyguard left his corner and seated Mimi.
Karin took a Chesterfield from a gold case, lit it and held it for Mimi. “If you don’t like me, just say so.” Mimi flustered and met Karin’s eyes straightaway. Mimi moved in close and lipped it, drawing hard, exhaling through her nose.
Karin blew a complimentary cloud. “Tell the truth.”
“You’re very pretty.”
Karin tapped the ash off her cigarette. “The kid’s a barn burner, Frank.”
Slim Sinatra cupped his hands around his whisky and water and swished the ice.
Jo joked, “Excusez, moi,” loosening the laces on her blouse. Lana dropped her cigarette in the au jus andturned to Jo. “Aren’t you late for your French class?”
Jo slid off the stranger’s lap, revealing the push of her bosom to Ken. “Don’t just stand there. Come over here, baby. Sit down and stay awhile. I’ll pour you a drink.”
Ken moved toward the empty seat next to Jo. “Johnny Stompanato,” said the tall, muscular stranger in a soft, deep baritone voice, reaching for Ken’s hand.
Ken’s eyes were on Jo; he almost lost his balance returning the grip. “Ken Stricker, L.A.P.D. Vice.”
Stompanato arched his bushy eyebrows. Ken settled in next to Jo. “Give my regards to Mickey.”
“Mr. Cohen to you, cop. Show some respect.”
“Thanks for the information, friend.”
“Friend? You’re no friend of mine. Why don’t you—”
“Cut it Johnny, we’re having a quiet little dinner,” Lana said over her drink. She pushed her half-eaten hamburger away and picked up a bread knife. “Understand?”
She turned her attention to Ken. She kept her eyes on him as she stroked the knife with loving care. “Frank’s giving me the low-down on Imitation of Life. Pre-production is in two months and Universal is clippin’ me.”
Sinatra added an ice cube to his drink, “Universal is giving you a pat hand, Lana. It’s the best role since Scarlett O’Hara and with more glamour. Say what you want about Louis B. Mayer. He was an SOB, but he loved movies. The guys today don’t even like movies. Go to Ross direct, like you did with Mayer. You’ll net fifty, easy.”
“Jesus Christ. She was fuck’n Connery on the set,” cackled Stompanato. “Another clunker and she’ll be doing half and half.”
Lana slammed the knife down and waved a finger in his face. “I’m the only one who knows that story and it’s gonna stay that way. I don’t know why I bother. I could cock my little finger and have a thousand guys like you.”
“Do somethin’ about it,” Stompanato cracked. “I might be better off.”
“Oh, so I’m not allowed to say anything.”
“I prefer you didn’t.”
He grabbed her wrist. “Don’t fuck with me, Lana. You’ll regret it.” Mimi rose from her seat.
“No you won’t, Mimi. Stay out of this!” Lana commanded.
“Johnny, let go of me, or I’ll put you back in the sewer where I found you!” Lana jerked her arm away from Stompanato. “I’ll hurt you where it counts. I’ll—”
Sinatra took his eyes off Mimi and banged his glass on the table, “Shut the fuck up!”
Mimi sat down. A contemptuous silence came over the table. Only the tinkle of ice in Frank’s glass could be heard. Lana resumed with a mischievous smile, focusing the attention on herself. “I told Frank what a fool you were in London. You’re the laughing stock of Hollywood.”
“Up yours,” said Stompanato, sulking.
“Thank you for the invitation,” said Lana. “I take it nobody has heard of Sean Connery. He’s amazing.”
She waited for the reaction, “We were filming a cozy little love scene for MGM when my big baby comes running on the set, yelling and waving a loaded gun. I screamed. Sean decked him before he could pull the trigger.”
“Scotland Yard—that’s a real thing—they put him on the next plane out.” Lana raised her hands in triumph. “Done. Finished. Adios.”
Stompanato fumed, “Really nice little performance. I’m good enough to fuck you, but not to walk on the red carpet. You’re no class. All you do is suck people dry.”
“Let’s go home and get it over with. I’m going to throw you out with the trash like my mother taught me.”
The goon burst through the door with a house extension. “Deez fon ees for Meester Ken Streeker.”
Ken took the receiver. “Who? Oh yeah. Wait a minute… what’s that address… yeah, I got it,” and hung up. “You’ll have to excuse me, district needs a cover car.”
Sinatra lowered his voice, “I’ll get Mimi home safe and sound.”
Ken made for the door. “Where you gonna be later?” asked Mimi.
“Check with Maury.”
Ken closed the door on the way out. Baby Please Don’t Go drifted through the walls. Jo leaned across Johnny to light Lana’s cigarette. “I think your films imitate life.”
“Not my life,” moaned Lana. “I wanted one husband and four kids, not four husbands and one kid.”
Ken hurried through the dining room, past the furs, into the bar. Stan was in dispute with the officer handcuffing the Cowboy. “He owes a twenty.”
“He’s not gonna be payin’ anything,” Lou replied. He looked up at Ken. “I reckon you knocked the Cowboy off his horse for good.”
“I didn’t see nothin’,” exclaimed Toledo Sue.
“What do I need to get outta here?” asked Ken.
“Sign here, detective. Maggie’ll take care of the rest,” said Lou.
“I owe you, Lou,” Ken said.
“Before ya go, I need your opinion,” inquired Stan. “Lou wants to use orange juice in barbecue sauce. Are you pro-juice?”
“I’m not anti.” Ken put his hat on. “Tab.”
“You’re good,” said Stan.
Ken handed Stan twenty bucks. “Split it with the valet.”
“Car’ll be out front. What’s the word?”
“A 261. West Hollywood.”
“That’s a dirty shame,” observed Toledo Sue. “Happy Easter, for Chrissakes.”
Next thing, Ken was out in the fresh air, standing under a glass canopy.
A redhead extended her arm. “Hey, sweetie. Want a good time?”
Ken tipped his hat.
“Wanna give it a go? Huh?”
“Take it back to the stroll. I know scum when I step in it.”
“Coming from you, that’s a compliment,” said a blonde, making short, uneven strikes on the sidewalk with her heels. She pushed up close and flicked her cigarette into the street and teetered. “Whadya say?”
Ken saw a bright flash. Houses across the street took on a grave, grainy texture.
The valet sprang in between. “No, no, girls!” He held an umbrella and opened the door of the Packard. “It’s about to start up again Mr. Ken. Key’s in the car.”
“Thank you—thank you so much,” sneered the redhead. Ken climbed in under the wheel, backed the car and skidded onto Sunset Boulevard.
A Chevy full of teenagers crossed at Fairfax. Suddenly, he was staring at the Naktong River. He cracked the window for air. His stomach wasn’t right. Then, waiting for the light at Pacific, a checkerboard superimposed itself on the distant hills. Ken opened the car door and puked, watching it dissolve in the wet pavement.
The car behind honked. The man stuck his head out the window. “Hey buddy, get a move on. You outta you mind?”
Ken gassed it.
9:10 pm. Ken’s hands trembled as he pulled in behind the flashing lights at 1245 North Orange. He paused on the pavement before pushing past the gawkers to the door awning. A face in the crowd yelled, “Get a load of that hot-shot in a hundred-dollar suit.”
Ken showed his badge to the bull, “1-A, Chief.”
The nude body was face down on the living room couch, hair tied back, brassiere and bathrobe on the floor. Lawrence Welk was playing on the TV. “Looks like an atomic bomb,” Ken said to the patrol cop staring out the front window. “There was a struggle in here.”
“Yeah, an’ here comes the crime lab.”
Ken stepped over spilled cigarettes. “See that footprint? A lot of rapists have big feet.”
“That so?” said the second cop.
“Whadya deaf?” Ken walked over to the couch. “Cuff bands on her wrists. I bet you missed that, too, didn’t ya?”
“Now I remember you,” said the cop. “You’re not homicide.”
“That’s your problem, Ace. What about the parents?”
“They’re comin’ from Minnianapolis. The sister’s in the bedroom, out of it.”
Ken crouched down by the body. The jaw was gaped open. He felt the lower part. “Strangulation. The face is black. Cyanotic. Don’t close the eyes. The photo cops need close-ups. Let the coroner remove the body before you call the backup boys, and keep the press outside. While you’re at it, cover the outside to see if you can find anything. I’ll look in the medicine cabinet.”
Ken was examining something in his tweezers with his gloves on when the print man showed him a note—a single sheet of college-ruled paper, written in a neat, Georgia Bell pen.
“Was she clutching it?”
“No. It was on that table.”
“Somebody could have placed it there after death. Read it for me, please. Out loud,” said Ken.
“If I can’t see my dad here, I will—“
“Give it to me.” Ken sniffed both sides of the note and handed it back. “Smell it.”
The print man did as he was told. “I don’t smell anything.”
“That’s it. No perfume. Slowly, now, from the top.”
“If I can’t see my dad here, I will see him from above. I’m trying to watch TV, but I don’t know. It’s so lonely here. I want to sleep. I keep thinking about the pills, but I’m scared. I want out but oh I don’t know. I’m so cold. I can’t stand this empty feeling. My head is horrible. Stop the pounding. Somebody do something.”
“Plenty. Here you go, skipper.”
Ken dropped the object in the envelope and handed it back to the print man. “A button came off during the struggle. One of ours. Mark it ‘bathroom sink’. See that Jake gets the note and the envelope.” Ken closed the medicine cabinet door. “She was strangled by someone who knew her. You better check on sis. Ask her for any boyfriends and what the victim was puttin’ out. There’s more to be learned here.”
“One more thing,” said Ken.
“Somebody water the hydrangea.”
Ken went back outside, past the shouts and blinding flashbulbs, to the refuge of the Packard. He made notes and sat listening to the rain drumming on the roof before deciding on Frank & Musso’s.
9:42 pm. Sal, the bartender in a red jacket, was reading the L.A. Times. Ken hung his hat on a hook and took a spot among the single men at the mahogany bar. “A hot blond in the sand.”
Sal poured it himself, and added cream and sugar. “You look like you seen a ghost.”
Ken poured the coffee into a saucer to cool it. “A couple. Got somethin’ for a stomach?”
“Mitch—whip up Adam & Eve on a raft and wreck ‘em. I’ll get the Bromo.”
“Who just left?”
“John St. John. He was buying dinner for Raymond Burr.”
“He showed him the Dahlias, didn’t he?”
“A glossy. The one in the grass.”
“There’s a problem with that picture,” said Ken.
“Why? It was real clean and focused.”
“It was taken at night, with a flash.”
“I thought they found her in the morning.”
“That’s it, Sal.”
“What are you gonna do? With the Dahlia, I mean.”
“People think every crime has some meaning. Most of ‘em don’t.”
“So, somebody just happened to do this? I mean the Dahlia.”
“I got no time for cold cases, Sal. I’m losin’ my mind.”
10:38 pm. Mitch handed the phone to Ken. “For you.”
“I’m feelin’ better, Mitch.” Ken traded his dirty dishes for the phone and dropped five on the bar. He looked at Mitch and covered the mouthpiece. “Loose lips sink ships.”
Mitch moved off.
“Go ahead, Maury.”
“L-A-N-I-T-A was on the other line. Musta flipped her wig.”
“What are you tellin’ me to do?”
“She didn’t call to hear your pearly voice. Says hurry up and come to 7-3-0 North Bedford Drive. Come alone and don’t ask questions.”
“I’m on the way.”
“Check. Bedford and Lomita. You better count your chickens. There’s a full moon.”
“I hadn’t noticed.”
10:36 pm. Ken passed a Rolls on Sunset and turned onto Bedford at the Church of the Good Shepherd. He couldn’t help thinking of his mother and Mimi, and Kanoaka, the Japanese girl who took the bullets out of his gun.
10:38 pm. He rang the doorbell at the only house with the lights on, a large white Colonial with blue trim. Nothing stirring but the wind in the trees.
Two more rings and a striking fifty-year-old woman in shades opened the door—dark hair, with fifteen years on Lana.
Ken held up his badge, “Detective Ken Stricker, Los Angeles Police Department, ma’am.”
“Police?” she gasped.
She looked him up and down. “Anybody can carry a badge.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’d like to talk to Miss Lana Turner.”
“Well… you cannot!”
“She asked for me. Personally.”
“She’s not here.”
“Mind if I come in and wait?”
“What’s this about? There is nothing wrong here. I am her mother. What makes you think she wants to see you?”
“We had dinner tonight at the Mocambo with Frank Sinatra.”
“Oh. I see. Pardon me, I am such a mess,” she cried, with as much dignity as she could muster. She lifted her shades and wiped the tears away with a handkerchief, before assuming a quiet sociability. “Come in. Don’t just stand there in the rain.”
A large portrait of F.D.R. hung in the foyer. Daffodils and a statue of Child Jesus sat on a table beneath a framed mirror.
“Thank you, Mrs.—”
“Miss Mildred Frances Turner,” she panted. She turned away to the mirror to stroke her hair, fix her dress and catch her breath. “I’ll take your coat and hat. You will find my daughter upstairs. Dr. MacDonald will explain. I need to lie down.”
When Ken reached the first landing, Lana was running back and forth yelling, “My career! My career! They’ll fire me! I’ll be a nothing!”
One of the bedroom doors was ajar. Ken pushed it open. He froze. A doctor was shining a light in Johnny Stompanato’s eyes.
“Doc, what’s up?”
MacDonald stood up in surprise.
Ken stepped in and showed his badge. “L.A.P.D.”
Doc turned off his pen light. “The eyes are glazed over, pupils fixed and dilated. Obviously, this individual—”
Ken dropped to a knee.
“Are you okay?” MacDonald said.
Doc’s kind assurance snapped Ken out of it. “I thought you were a medic—“
“You could say that. You’re a vet, aren’t you, son?”
Without waiting for a reply, Doc helped him up, explaining, “It was a single stab wound to the abdomen, executed with the skill of a commando. I conclude Mr. Stompanato died from hypovolemic shock—his abdomen is distended and blood is still extravasating from the wound. Probably one of the large splenic or mesenteric arteries was severed.”
“Approximately three minutes. When I arrived, Mildred—Miss Turner’s mother, if you don’t already know—was administering mouth-to-mouth respiration. Of course, any attempt at resuscitation would be futile. I administered an injection of adrenaline as standard protocol.”
“Doc, you saddle up and check on Mildred, would ya? She has a nervous tic. Might be a breathing problem.”
Doc disappeared with his bag. Lana swept in, dazed and confused, waving a cigarette, breathing hard. “You’re here, thank God!” She sprawled on the settee like Cleopatra. “Ooooh, do I need you! Could you get the ashtray on the dressing table?”
Ken handed it to her. “Well now—”
Lana exhaled a cloud. “I’m not going to talk about it.”
“Okay. Suppose you tell me about it.”
“I can’t bear it… honestly. I feel like killing myself,” Lana said, crushing her cigarette.”
“C’mon. You must’ve had a reason.”
“I walked in on Cheryl and Johnny.”
“My daughter. My fourteen-year-old daughter! A child of fourteen was in bed with a thirty-three-year-old man!”
“What did you say?”
“Are you kidding? I—I was too shocked to say anything.”
“What position were they in?”
“On their back, on top of the covers. Sleeping.
Lana’s fake eyebrows narrowed. “He was resting up after the dirty deed. On my side of the bed. Disgusting! I went crazy. Berserk. Is that a word? Berserk? Opened the drawer of the nightstand. Grabbed the knife and plunged it into his stomach.”
“I only wanted to castrate him.”
“Uh-huh. What happened then?”
“Cheryl woke up screaming.”
“All he said was, ‘What have you done, Lana.’”
“Was anyone else home?”
“No. The servants had the night off. Boxes all over the kitchen. It’s a mess!”
“Del and Bill Brooks.”
“Del’s boyfriend. They left before all this started.”
“And your mother?”
“What do you think? She was at her place.”
Lana shuddered as if she’d seen a ghost. “He kept looking at the knife, making weird noises.”
“I have to know where the knife is.”
“I bought it from the hardware store. It’s about this long—”
“Lana. Where’s the knife you whittled him with?”
“In the sink. I’ll show you.”
“Don’t move, I’ll get it. What else did you do?”
“I called Frank.”
Ken went into the bathroom and wiped the prints off the knife. When he returned, there she was—tall and strong-looking, hair dark like Mildred’s and trembling.
“I didn’t know you had a daughter,” said Ken.
“Most of the time neither does she,” said Cheryl.
“Cheryl. This gentleman is Sergeant Stricker. Inspector Stricker.
“Never mind. Can you stay here a minute? He’s helping us today.”
Cheryl’s eyes opened wide. “Help us with what?”
“Homicide,” declared Ken, “The killing of one human being by another. An offense against God and man.”
“I only meant to scare him,” explained Lana.
Cheryl exploded. “Scare him? Mother, you scared him straight to Hell! Say it! Say it!”
Lana reached out, “I’m your mother. What do you want me to say? That I killed the SOB?
“No, mother. I know you don’t want us—”
“OK, Cheryl. I’m sorry honey. I killed the son of a bitch and I’d do it again. Satisfied? And stop bringing up that idiot!” Lana’s neck muscles tightened. “I’ve fought monsters all my life. They’re not gonna destroy me now!”
Ken struck his palm with a fist. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let me handle this.”
“When she gets like this there’s no talking to her,” Cheryl muttered.
Lana lit another cigarette. “Ye—es, Ser—geant. Of course, Ser—geant.”
Ken grunted, “Now let’s get organized. The rest of your life depends on it.”
“It’s been nuts these last few days. You deal.”
Ken watched Cheryl bite her lower lip and pull the hair away from her face, first one side then the other. “She’s tall, a whole five inches taller than you.”
Lana eyed Ken suspiciously through a cloud of smoke. “Five-and-a-half. What does that have to do with tea in China?”
“I have an idea. Johnny has threatened you on various occasions. Correct?”
“And my daughter. And my mother. The other day the idiot asked me for four thousand dollars. When I stalled, he said, ‘When a man works with his hands, I cut off his hands. You work with your face; I will destroy your face. And if I can’t do it, I have friends who can. Your mother, your kid, I cut ‘em in half.’”
Ken held out his hands, palm up. “Prints are gone. No witnesses. Cops know nothin’.”
Ken paused for effect until Cheryl’s eyes met his. “Suppose Cheryl stabbed Johnny.”
Cheryl blanched and dropped limp to her knees on the plush pink carpet. Lana’s face filled with fright. “No! She hasn’t done anything!”
“Baby! Baby!” Lana got down on the floor with Cheryl and gave Ken a furious look. “You didn’t mean that. You’re joking!”
He took a step back and warned Lana. “You—”
“Not my daughter! I told you I did it. See! The blood’s on my hands.”
“I don’t see any—maybe a trace. The fact is, you ran him through with a carving knife. They’ll throw the book at you. What’s the worst for Cheryl? Six months in juvie?”
Cheryl looked at Ken as if he were mad. She pulled a strand of her hair to the front.
“At least you won’t have smoke coming out of your head,” put in Ken.
“Not in the gas chamber.”
Dread crossed Cheryl’s face. “Ohhh.”
Lana caught Cheryl’s eye. “It’s cop humor, honey.” She gave Ken a wicked look. “You have children?”
“No,” he said, loosening his tie, “but I killed a man at the Naktong River. Saw him die.”
“Oh, right! Thank you for that,” Lana winced and drew deeply. “I mean, this looks… I mean you can’t just… who the hell do you think you are? Alfred Hitchcock?”
Ken retorted, “Houdini.”
Cheryl tossed her head in rebellion, “I’m not helping you with anything.”
“She’s been cross, lately,” apologized Lana.
“Mother, please. You, of all people, couldn’t possibly understand,” countered Cheryl angrily. “You don’t know what I’m going through. It has nothing to do with you or Johnny!”
“What now?” said Lana.
Ken scratched his ear, clearly discomfited. “We don’t have all night. Shut up and listen. Cheryl’s in her room doing homework or watching TV… with the door shut. She hears you and Mr. Personality arguing in your room. She comes to your door and listens.”
“I know! This is where I give Johnny his walking papers. ‘I’m through with you. Pack your goddamn bags and get the fuck outta my house! Go back to your gangsters!’”
Ken led on. “He calls you a cunt and threatens to cut you. Stay with me now. This is where it gets tricky. Cheryl goes back to her room. She hears the mutilation shit about her and Mildred. Follow?”
“It’s not Mildred. It’s Gran,” snorted Cheryl, rocking back and forth, with a hint of surrender.
Ken looked out the window while he considered his next step. “Cheryl goes downstairs to the kitchen for something and sees a knife on one of those boxes. She’s looking at the knife. She’s had enough and runs back upstairs with it. She stands outside your bedroom door, uncertain what to do, except to keep the princess safe from the pirates.”
Lana was up on her feet. “Let me take over. Johnny and I are screaming at each other. More threats from the lunatic. Now… um… um….”
“No. You go ahead.”
”Cheryl grips the knife and yells, ‘Mother, mother, are you all right?’ The door flies open. You’re panic stricken. Johnny’s chasin’ you.”
“Now here’s the clincher,” said Ken. “Come over here, Cheryl.”
Lana tilted her head at Cheryl. “Will you quit pacing and let the gentleman do his job?”
“You have no idea what I’m thinking,” said Cheryl, not looking at her mother.
“Please don’t raise your voice to me. I want you prepared, baby,” Lana reassured.
Cheryl approached Ken warily, watching his every move.
Ken struck a pose. “Johnny’s hand is raised. He’s screaming at your mother, ‘You’ll never get away from me. I’ll cut you good, baby! No one’ll ever look at that pretty face again.’ You’re wielding the knife like so. You step in the room and stab him, like so.”
“How do I do it? No matter how much I hated him, I couldn’t do it,” Cheryl protests.
“Okay, he either runs into the blade or you stab him—you can’t remember which.”
“What? How’s that gonna go over?” Lana said sharply.
“People get scared and they can’t remember. Johnny looks at the knife, ‘Cheryl, Cheryl.’ He stumbles and falls. You and Cheryl stand there, shocked. He had no weapon after all.”
Cheryl sniffed and reached out to embrace her mother.
Lana gently pushed her away, “No, sweetheart, my hair.”
Cheryl began to sob. “Mother, I love you so much. I don’t know what I’d do without you. You’re all I have. My life would be ruined. I’m scared.”
Lana sat down at the dressing table and touched up her hair. She took a cigarette from a silver box. Ken steadied her hand and lit it for her. She looked up. “That’s a lot for Cheryl.”
“I can’t do it,” said Cheryl in a monotone.
“We’ll go over it, honey. We’ll rehearse. I’ll coach you. I’ll show you the marks.”
Cheryl swallowed hard. “I couldn’t follow everything he said.”
“I’ll break it into smaller pieces. You’ll figure it out.”
Ken cleared his throat. “Lana. This is your big role. You can ad lib as long as you stay within the overall script. Cheryl. You’re young. They’re gonna guess right and put the heat on your mother. They’ll put you in separate rooms. They’ll switch facts, try to get you workin’ against each other. Try to getcha to roll over. They have a tape recorder.”
Lana closed her eyes and put a hand up to her forehead.
“What is it, Lana?”
“I gave him presents. I tried to get rid of him but he would beg and I would give in. I’m soft, too easy. I don’t know, Ken. I don’t know. What do we do when the police come?”
“I’m gonna give you a quick course. Let them ask the questions. They’ll come a time when you’ll have to make a statement. Stick to the basic scenario. Volunteer nothing. Cops are gambling on a confession. You’re not playin’ a chess game, you’re eatin’ the pieces.”
“When do we call the police?” wondered Lana, freshening her lips.
Cheryl rose to her feet, showing her teeth to Ken. “Aren’t you a cop?”
“Yeah, but I can’t stay for the festivities.”
Lana looked at Ken through the mirror. “Johnny! He lies there like a block of ice.”
“Aria from the Mirror of Arcady.”
“Very good.” Ken moved over to the bed. “Now let’s slide this stuck pig off your precious sheets.”
Lana stirred from the vanity and faced Ken. “Like Hell! I don’t want blood on my carpet!”
Ken pointed to the body. “There is no blood. No blood at all.”
Cheryl eyeballed Johnny. “I don’t care. I’m not gonna touch him.”
Ken quietly disarmed them both. “Now’s not the time to be narrow, nasty and negative.”
“Who dreamt that crap up?” exclaimed Lana.
Lana beckoned Cheryl, “Baby, please. Let’s not make it any worse. Come on, now.”
“The head is the heaviest part.” Ken took the head, Lana the feet, Cheryl the torso. “All together—one-two-three, upsy daisy!”
Johnny came off the bed with a thud, clean, face up on the pink rug. Cheryl shivered. “I’m gonna be sick.” She covered her mouth and ran for the bathroom. She missed it by inches.
While Cheryl cleaned up her mess, Ken used his hands. “Lana, from my angle, when someone is stabbed in the gut, they fall forward. Johnny’s position is all wrong for that. Your job is to convince the police, the judge and the jury that he did a little jig and fell over backward.”
Lana pushed up to Ken. Her features sharpened, like her mother’s. “Will Cheryl be on trial?”
“No. She’s juvenile. She’ll be locked up in the Hall or out on bail, if she’s lucky. The inquest will be held here in Beverly Hills. You’re the star witness.”
“Oh that’s a relief,” said Lana sarcastically.
“You’ll have an audience. The room will be packed. The press’ll be there, lookin’ for anything. Your mother and doc’ll be there. A D.A. too. That’s the pigeon you sell. A trial means J. Miller Leavy and questions, embarrassing ones.”
“Ken, what would you think if I was quite close with Andy Anderson?”
“Your odds are good. I’d put four grand on no trial.”
“I need to believe that so much.”
“You still have to play your cards right. Tone your look down. White gloves and a tweed suit.”
Cheryl returned from the bathroom. Lana put her arm around her, “If anything happens to Cheryl—”
“Mother, your cop buddy-friend walks into our house like an omniscient god, and—”
“Baby… take a deep breath—”
“Whose side is he on? I don’t like him.”
“Hush. You’re not yourself.” Lana wiped Cheryl’s face and fixed her hair.
“I thought he’d be short and ugly. When did you first meet, anyway?” Cheryl said icily.
“I don’t remember, honey, and I don’t think it’s something you need to know. We—”
“Excuse me, ladies. Can I take my bribe and be off?”
“He’s gettin’ paid, mother?” asked Cheryl, raising her eyes.
“Don’t be silly.”
Ken noted Johnny’s address and took his black book; he left keys and wallet for the police and checked his watch. “Cheryl, bundle the bedding in a laundry bag.”
“Those are my pink satin sheets!” Lana shrieked.
“It’s all gotta go. Everything.”
“I’m not Lizzie Borden,” scoffed Cheryl, as she stripped the bed.
Ken leaned in to Lana, removed the cigarette from her lips and took a drag. “Let me see your hands.”
“It was a cantaloupe.”
“What are you talking about?”
“It felt like I was cutting a cantaloupe.”
“Did you cut yourself? I don’t see any blood on your dress.”
“No. Only a small cut on my lip. See?”
Ken placed the half-smoked cigarette between her lips. “Say you bit your lip.”
“You seemed to enjoy a smoke. I thought you quit,” taunted Lana.
“I’ve wanted one all night long.”
Lana made a bee line for the bathroom. “Watch the orange stain.”
Ken followed. “What about doc?”
“He’s a family friend. He’ll go along. Same for mother. You met Mildred?”
“I believe so. Say, who you gonna call?”
“I know the name. Well respected. He got Bugsy Siegel off and he’s got a file on the Chief. You can’t do better than that, but you’re gonna have a little problem with him—he has links with Cohen.”
“Where’s Frank?” mumbled Lana.
“Ahhh—one more thing. Why was there a knife in your nightstand?”
“Your suspicions are usually right. A lady needs something to protect herself.“
“Yeah, you better watch your step, you’re gonna be hot for awhile.”
“Are you listening?”
“Hand me a towel. That one.”
“It has fringe.”
“It’s a Turkish towel, you never—”
“Or a Turk in a towel. Now, as I was saying, check on your mother. I don’t care if she’s bawlin’ her eyes out, move her outta here. Don’t forget to make the bed before you call Anderson.”
Ken lugged the laundry bag to the car, stashed it in the trunk and checked the scanner. When he returned, Lana and Cheryl were rehearsing in the living room. Mildred was out cold.
Lana brought Ken’s coat and hat.
“Ye-es, except,” Lana glanced around at Cheryl, “I can see she’s unhappy, but I don’t know what to do about it.”
“Maybe that’s her way of telling you something.”
“She judges me. Mothers and daughters are like that.”
“Pay more attention to her.”
“Yeah, I know. She wishes my life were more stable.”
Ken put his coat on. “You don’t want her to run.”
“She means a lot to me. Anyway, I hate goodbyes. Here’s the four grand. Buy a silk shirt. It’s on Johnny.”
Ken took the pink envelope. “That’s a nice thank you,” he said without gratitude. “How about something more personal?”
The thought brought wonder to her face. She twiddled her bracelets. “You mean—”
He looked at her straight. “A mink coat.”
Lana coughed. “For Mimi? She can have mine. I never cared much for mink.”
“She’ll love that.”
Lana reached for Ken’s hand, “I’m a fool all right, not some crazy bitch. Italian men are soooo handsome—John was backward in ways, but he really grabbed me. We wrote love letters, like high school sweethearts.”
“At least it kept you from killin’ each other.”
Lana pulled away contemptuously, “Are you this rude to your sweet little angel?”
“I’m sure you couldn’t care less,” returned Ken.
“That’s very touching. You better listen to me. You were waiting for Mimi all your life. She’ll destroy you.”
“Mind your own—”
At that moment, Sinatra crashed through the half-open front door with Mimi.
“Frank, Frank!” Lana cried, “Something terrible—”
11:27 pm. The rain stopped falling on the great, barbarous city. The neighborhood was deserted. Ken and Mimi climbed into the Packard and nosed out onto Bedford Drive. Mimi snuggled up to him in the front seat with her mink coat on. “Sir, is your nose workin’?”
“Madam, that’s by Nikolai Gogol.”
“I withdraw the question.”
“Seriously, there’s a dark 1958 claret in the trunk. I think it’s Type A.”
Ken cracked a window. Mimi opened her wing vent, “They say blood will have blood.”
“Not in this case.”
“It’s all set.”
They turned east onto Wilshire and cruised along the wet boulevard. Mimi bent down to light a cigarette from the car lighter. “You’re sweaty.”
He felt her bottom. “You’re warm.”
She squirmed. “You threw me to the crocodiles, n’est-ce pas?”
Lana’s 187 crackled over the radio. Ken switched it off. He had no feeling of conquest or job well done. That’s life. He handed the black book to Mimi. “This is his last will and testament. See if you’re in there.” She opened it and began to read aloud, gravely, “June Allyson… Anita Ekberg… Zsa Zsa Gabor… ooooh… Rock Hudson… Cole Porter… Liz Renay. Liz Renay?”
“Liz Renay… Liz… she’s Cohen’s whore.”
Mimi tossed her cigarette out the window. “This guy Cohen—”
“This guy? This… are you kiddin’? He’s not writin’ numbers. He’s got L.A. locked down and the whole West Coast.”
“That’s what I’m sayin’. We know Stompanato was servicing Lana—”
“That’s a cute one. Where’dya learn that?”
“Say what you want, but how do you know Cohen wasn’t settin’ her up with Johnny?”
“It’s gotta be somethin’.”
“Yeah… maybe. Come to think of it, Cleopatra mentioned Stompanato letters.”
“Yeah. She thinks she’s Queen of Egypt.”
“Queen of night clubs you mean.”
“Don’t let her get near you with a blade.”
“No kidding, though, if any pictures or tapes get out, she’s goin’ downtown.”
“We better get over to Johnny’s before Cohen does,” urged Mimi. “Don’t ya think?”
“Robertson. That’s where he lives—use to.”
11:38. Ken turned onto Robertson and slowed in front of Stompanato’s.
“Shouldn’t we go around the back?” said Mimi
“There might be an alley.”
Ken circled the block and killed the motor in the alley back of 806 Robertson. Mimi entered the lobby first. “Eight mailboxes. Four upstairs, four downstairs. Johnny’s no. 6. Second floor, second one down. Ummmm, there’s a Cohen here, too.”
Mimi half-smiled. “I’m a good picker.”
Mimi took her heels off. They climbed up the fire escape to the second floor. The glass pane in the bathroom window of no. 6 was open. Ken cut the screen. “Ten minutes.”
Mimi licked her lips with the tip of her tongue and crawled in with a flashlight. A gold-framed picture of Cohen and Johnny in the living room, three locks on the front door. She ransacked a few drawers, took a jar of K-Y from the dresser and found a key. She didn’t notice the leather shaving kit with fourteen letters from Lana tucked inside.
Footsteps and lock noise. She clenched the key between her teeth, held her breath and crawled out the way she crawled in. They crouched together on the escape, whispering. Mimi showed Ken the key. “With my brains and your looks, we can go places.”
“Good. Cops don’t check train stations.” A car came down the alley.
Mimi handed Ken the jar of K-Y.
“K-Y jelly. Good times every time.”
A dog barked.
“Look at me, Mimi. Is something wrong with me?”
“Just look at me, and say if there’s something wrong with me.”
“There must be. Something’s been going on in my head. It’s like headaches.”
“I saw the pain in your eyes after you hit the Cowboy.”
Ken took Mimi’s chin in his hand. “I was so ashamed when I hit you. I don’t understand. Look at me, Mimi. Say if there’s something wrong.”
“Shhhh. No.” She kissed his scar. “Everything’s gonna be all right. I’m gonna make you forget it.”
“Wait. I saw a shadow—that couldda been Cohen. C’mon. I’ll help you get down.”
Ken drove fast. Mimi checked for a tail. She tuned in Bill Balance on KFWB. “Tequilaaa!” she yelled, clapping and snapping her fingers to the music. “One more time!”
“I never knew how good Tequila could sound.”
“Yeah, you’d love to see Jayne Mansfield dance to it.”
12:25 am. The key at Union Station opened a locker. They took a wooden box back to Ken’s apartment and sat down on the sofa to go through it.
“Johnny’s penis was the most photographed in the world,” declared Mimi.
“Well, it’s damn sure photogenic,” Ken agreed, handing her the box.
She tossed him a pillow. “Some night, huh?”
“Felt like a century.”
“Isn’t that the truth?” She plopped down on his lap. “Am I disturbing you?”
“Do you think somewhere in the world there’s peace and quiet?”
“It’s right here with you.”
“So I imagine.”
He unzipped her dress down to the small of her back and unclipped her bra.
“Ohhhh. Your hands are cold. Want somethin’?”
She turned and kissed him on the forehead. “Name it.”
“A roast beef and a double 7up on the rocks.”
By the time Mimi returned from the kitchen, Ken had dozed off. While she waited for him to come around, she took a few negatives to the darkroom.
Soon she came roaring out, waving a wet 8 x 10. It all added up. “The fuck! This is you and Cleopatra!”
That woke Ken. She threw the photo at him. Her eyes filled with tears. “She’s disgusting.”
“You? You’re disgusting.”
She opened a fresh pack of Chesterfields, lit one, and blew an angry gust.
“You carried on with her while you were fucking me whenever you wanted. Why, oh, why?”
“Don’t answer that. I don’t give a shit about your fuck’n excuses.”
“Why don’t you take a good look at that picture? You think you’re gonna fix this?”
Ken averted her eyes. “Stop. You’re shaking.”
“You expect me to sit around and laugh about it?”
“If you just—”
“Was it good? Her mouth’s smaller than mine! Right? Huh? Go fuck yourself.”
Ken raised himself from the couch. “Stop it—”
“I think of all the things I did for you.”
Mimi stopped pacing and shook a fist in his face. “Don’t touch me! Don’t you dare or—“
Mimi put on the mink, backed away and eyed the door.
“What are you doing? You don’t have clothes.”
“Take a good look, you lyin’ bastard. That’s the last you’ll ever see!”
“Go ahead. I’ll find you. I’ll bring you back, you’n’your fuck’n mink.”
“I’ll kill myself first!”
Saturday, April 5, 1958. 10:32 am. Ken and Mimi burned the bedclothes and the box (You don’t fuck with The Family).
A week later, Giesler exclaimed, “This is a case of justifiable homicide. There is no justification for a trial.” The judge agreed. Everyone else agreed that the Stompanato murder was one of the least investigated in the history of the L.A.P.D.
They say the greatest fear of a star is to be forgotten, but tourist buses still stop at the large colonial on Bedford Drive, still puzzling over a not so good Friday.
Bio: Charles Jacobson is an army veteran with an abiding interest in philosophy and the arts and a cat who doesn’t like him. He is published in Proud to Be, Pure Slush Books, Fleas on the Dog, Military Experience and the Arts, Poets Choice, Drunk Monkeys and Wingless Dreamer.
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