Double Garage chapter three
Dick Powell was singing in his soprano/tenor voice as I climbed the wooden steps to the second story of an old warehouse off of Southeast Holgate. I was there looking for Paul Price on a tip that I’d gotten from Dixon. At the top of the rickety steps I found a locked door with broken glass windows in it. I punched out some of the glass, ripping the sleeve on my Arrow shirt. Reaching through the broken window I found the latch and opened the door. I took a step into the darkness. There was no floor. I tumbled into the dark space, head over heels. I woke up on the floor next to my bed, with my covers tangled all around me. It was 7:00 o’clock on a fresh July morning and I was mentally deep into this case. I guess the next thing I needed to do was to find out if Mrs. Price wanted to pay me to continue.
I torched a Camel and put a pot of coffee on the hot plate.
The morning was heavily overcast but the voice on the radio was saying that it was going to clear up and hit 90 degrees in the afternoon. I decided that I’d head over to S.E. Caruthers and talk to Mrs. Price. As I drove over the viaduct at 28th Avenue, I could see down below in Sullivan’s gulch where they were digging and grading for a new freeway. I hadn’t seen one yet, but I’d heard Jack Benny making jokes on the radio about the one in Pasadena. Progress. As G.E. says, “Our most important product.” I cut over to Southeast on the side streets and as I turned onto Caruthers I could see a sedan pulling out of the Price’s half of the double garage. It looked like the missus was behind the wheel. Using my best private detective tailing skills, I followed the big auto onto Grand Avenue as it turned north.
She turned at Broadway and then onto Interstate Avenue. We were headed for Vancouver, across the river in Washington state. Portland has two rivers, the smaller Willamette, which flows north and is a tributary to the larger and more famous Columbia. The Columbia divides Oregon and Washington and you go from one to the other by crossing the Interstate Bridge, the only toll in the Portland area. We drove up Interstate past all the motels with the giant neon signs. My favorite was the Palms. I loved the old joke that it was called the Palms even though there were no palm trees in the Portland area. The punch line was, that you’d see the palms, when the bellhop showed you his. I fully expected Mrs. Price to pull into one of these roadside hostelries for a tryst, but she kept driving. We went all the way up Interstate to the jog in Kenton and past the statue of Paul Bunyan. At about 40 feet tall, he seemed lonely without Babe, the blue ox. Maybe they were saving up to build him one.
We passed over a couple of viaducts that span some industrial plants and past the Portland Meadows racetrack. I had spent many an hour there and, many a sawbuck. Ponies were not my forte’. I was still trying to figure out a system. I didn’t trust those little jockeys. As we passed over the south Columbia channel bridge onto Hayden Island, no toll on this one, she turned right, just past the giant Waddle’s Restaurant sign. “Eat Now” with a big clock. I was always a sucker for that cute little ducky. She turned under Interstate and headed for Jantzen Beach Amusement Park. The park had been there since the 1920s and boasted, among other things, the Big Dipper roller coaster, a lively midway with bumper cars, a fun house with the “Laughing Lady” out front and the world class “Golden Canopied Ballroom”. Of course, the four Olympic size swimming pools were where you’d find the Jantzen Girl sign, diving into the blue water.
Mrs. Price pulled into the gravel parking lot and I pulled up a few rows over, behind a Cun-O-Car van. I could already smell the cotton candy and caramel corn. It mixed with the creosote smell from the parking lot and brought back many fond memories of childhood.
She paid the admission fee at the white wooden ticket booth and entered the park, turning right and heading down the midway past the Scooters. I followed at a safe distance. As I walked past the Scooters, with the electrically charged ceiling sparking and hissing, as it powered the cars, I noticed that she slipped into a door between the “three-darts-for-a-dime” booth and the “three-balls-for-a-dime” booth. A variation on a theme. Pop the balloons or knock over the cat-rack-dummies. I couldn’t follow her into the door, so I navigated around the dart booth and tried to find where she went from the back side of the buildings. I tripped over a cardboard box filled with broken chalkware dolls. I could see Wimpy winking at me from inside the box of broken swag. At least it was Wimpy’s head. No body. I found a window to the room Mrs. Price had entered and I surreptitiously peeked inside an office. My first reaction was to recoil in embarrassment just like a little kid. She was entangled in an embrace with a guy in a fancy black Western style shirt. My gawd, was she having an affair with Hopalong Cassidy?
As they turned in their embrace I could see that it wasn’t Hoppy, but he did have a face that I had seen in the local paper. Phil Broadway, the owner of the amusement park. He had a shady reputation. He had come up from the hardscrabble side of the carnival business. I’d read that his background was in freak shows, exploiting humans with deformities and abnormalities that caused them to not fit into normal society. Midgets, dwarves, limbless souls and hair-covered children. Apparently he had been pretty successful, because he was now in an almost legitimate business. He was still exploiting humans, but they were of a higher social caliber.
After their squeeze and smooch, they exited through the door that she had come in, so I quickly ran around to the spot where I had come from. I stood behind a cut-out of a corn dog while they walked past me. They were heading towards the Fun House. I followed at a discreet distance even though, with my white shirt and tie, I stood out in this crowd like a nudist at a Jehovah’s Witness convention. They walked past the Fun House and, just as I was reaching the “Laughing Lady” at the entrance, they ducked into the Tunnel of Love. I paid my fee and jumped into the boat just behind them, while a couple of sailors smirked openly at me. I thought I could hear one of them say “. . . loser . . .”.
In the pitch black of the interior, on its little river, I could only see them as they passed the lighted displays that were tricked-out to come on as a boat passed. There was some excited groping going on in their boat, but it quickly turned into a heated argument. I couldn’t hear a word over the splashing of my boat in the water, but as the discussion became more heated, the hollering became more understandable. A few words were coming through. “Skin .... Franklin .....boss .....underground ..... Camas ..... me ...... money ...... doctor”. Punctuated by some highly placed curses and four-letter words. And, a few names. Mavis, Phil, Paul, Monte and the Mayor. Hmmm, the Mayor huh?
When their boat reached the end of the ride, and I could see them in the bright sunshine, she actually had tears in her red-swollen eyes. She slapped him and ran off. He wiped his mouth with a white handkerchief and headed back towards his little office, stopping to chat with the young girl who was running the shooting range.
I just managed to reach the exit turnstiles when I saw Mrs. Price raising dust in the gravel as she headed back out to the highway. My coupe was waiting for me right where I left it. There was a flyer under my windshield wiper for the Destruction Derby at the “Jantzen Oval” later that night. I threw it onto the seat as I floor-boarded my coupe. I had my own destruction derby to tend to. I followed her dust to Interstate and we both headed south towards the city.