Double Garage

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Location: Portland

Thursday, May 31, 2007

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.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Double garage chapter two

I slumped in a hard-wooden chair in the office at Central Precinct for seven hours while Lieutenant Barnes paced back and forth, fondling a leather-sheathed lead sap. Alternately slapping it into his left palm and glaring at me with what he thought was an evil eye, he pried me with questions about the Plymouth and it’s driver. I’ve been around too long to be intimidated by a two-bit cop with a railroad yard-dick’s attitude. I didn’t know anything about why the Plymouth was in the soup or why my client’s husband was behind the wheel when it rolled into the Willamette and joined all the other scrap metal and old tires. What possible trouble could a bookkeeper get into in Portland. “Bookkeeper”, I always liked the word, because it had two o’s, double k’s and twin e’s, all right in a row. Maybe that was why I was determined to do whatever I could to find out what happened to the poor schmuck. Or maybe it was the cashmere sweater. Just possibly, it was because of what was inside the cashmere sweater. I couldn’t get my mind off of her.

Maybe that was why, when Barnes released me at around 6 o’clock that evening, I headed straight to the old Vaughn Street Ball Park for a game. Nothing took my mind off of women like baseball. And the Beavers were on a tear. They had just returned from a road trip where they beat the Oaks in Oakland, three out of four and the Seals in San Francisco, four out of five. They had climbed to the top of the Pacific Coast League, which would explain why, when I arrived, the ball yard was bursting at the seams with fans. There were even folks lining the outside of the old wooden fence in right field, trying to get a view through the knot holes and cracks.

I laid out my six bits and, after I pushed through the turnstile, I headed straight for the beer stand that was selling Lucky Lager in bottles. As I was waiting in line, I heard a commotion, and glanced over to see a couple of thugs in matching bowling shirts, apparently teammates, pushing another guy in a bowling shirt of a different color. I went over to intervene.

“Take it back to the alley boys, the bowling alley I mean.” I said, as I pulled the twins off of the loner.

By now, he was on his back on the sticky cement under the grandstand. He had peanut shells stuck all over his backside, it looked like the bottom of a parrot’s cage. The two mugs resisted my motions and one of them threw a wild right hook at me. It grazed my ear and hurt like hell, making my blood start to rise. I blindly threw a couple of quick ones to his middle and something in the back of my head told me this was awfully familiar. A blast of beery wind belched past me and I didn’t even have to look to realize it was Dixon again. By now he was leaning against the metal railing that leads under the stands to the field seats, trying to hold his belly and keep it from spilling over his buckle.

“What the hell are you doing here? I thought you were a night watchman.” I barked, holding onto my ear.

“Kiss my ass.” he spit out, in between gasps.

I’d had enough of this guy. I grabbed him by the shirt and pushed him into the men’s toilet. It smelled like pee and the urinal was a trough that ran the length of one of the walls. I pushed him and his foot landed right in it, kicking a sanitary soap cake right out and onto the floor.

“I want you to tell me everything you know about Paul Price”, I demanded.

“That little piss ant had better stay off of my property” Dixon coughed up some blood and bile.

“That little piss ant is dead.” I pushed him again, his pants were now wet up to the knees.

“What, you gotta be kiddin’ me?” He sounded truly surprised.

“Don’t give me that crap.” I slapped him and his hat fell into the trough.

“I didn’t know, she never talks to me. Hell, she never even looks at me.”

That didn’t surprise me, they were from two different species, cripes, they were from two different planets.

“I want you to tell me everything you know”, I was losing my patience. And, I could hear cheering from above us in the stands, I was missing something good.

He finally spilled. According to Dixon, Price kept very regular hours. He left for work at the same time every day. And, he came home on the same regular schedule. However, Mrs. Price wasn’t so reliable. Because he was a night watchman, he was home during the day, and peeking between his venetian blinds at his sexy neighbor. He had a pretty good idea that she was doing something extra curricular during the afternoons. He didn’t go as far as to follow her anywhere, but he knew she was gone for long periods of time and she never seemed to come back with any packages. Not a compulsive shopper. But, maybe she was compulsive at something else?

I let Dixon go. His bowling partner was loitering around the exit turnstiles when we came out of the men’s pisser. They walked away while his compadre quizzed him about the recent events.

I went up to the grandstand and watched the final five innings. I love the sounds of the ballpark. The vendors shouting. The crack of the bat. The tinny transistor radios that the old timers hold to their ears to listen to Rollie Truitt’s play-by-play. I even love the aroma of the cheap cigars that send smoke wafting through the seats. The Seattle Rainiers came from behind with three runs in the seventh and two more in the top of the eighth. The Beavers stranded runners in four of the five innings and lost, 5-3. Baseball, the only form of entertainment that can leave you to go home depressed.

I stopped at Besaw’s for a corned beef on rye, washed it down with a bottle of Blitz and pointed my Chevy coupe back to my apartment in Hollywood. Yeah, there’s a neighborhood in Portland called Hollywood, named after the fancy, 1920s vintage theatre on Sandy Blvd. I headed up the Lovejoy Ramp and over the Broadway Bridge. As I drove past all the darktown jazz joints on Williams Avenue, I was tempted to stop for some action. But, after the day that I had had, I was ready to hit the rack, alone. The bowling alley under the Seven-Up tower on 37th was just emptying out. It must have been league night because there were several gangs, all wearing matching shirts. Storm Troopers in pink and blue, short sleeved shirts, with their first names embroidered over the left pocket. Carl, Vern, Ed, Earl. If these guys committed any crimes, other than bad bowling, they’d be easy to identify in a line-up. Jeez, my attitude about bowlers had taken a turn for the worse.

I made it to my place, right next door to Chin’s Kitchen. I parked my car in the alley just off of 40th, went upstairs and turned on the radio. Dick Powell was solving another crime as Richard Diamond, the singing detective, on the little bake-a-lite box, while I fell asleep watching the glow from Chin’s flashing neon sign make dancing patterns on my wall in red and blue.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Double garage chapter one

As I slowly rolled past the address scribbled on my note pad, I couldn't help noticing the garage.

I'd always wondered about those double garages that are shared by two homeowners. The buildings sit between the houses at the end of a single driveway. This one was on a hill and had a little stairway that was poured between the two ribbons of concrete.

The garage building was divided right up the middle by a line separating the two colors of paint. The left half was painted the same color as the house on the left, and the right half matched the color of the address on my pad, 2712 S.E. Caruthers.

I knew the garage was the reason I was here. The woman on the phone pleaded hysterically for me to help. Her husband was missing. She repeatedly mentioned the garage and the next door neighbor.
I guess it was the way she said it. Or maybe it was the sound of her voice. Because I hopped in my car and beat it over.

Of course, I hadn't had a case in a week. I had been sitting in my office downtown throwing darts at a picture of Humphrey Bogart on the wall. Bogie was the reason I'd started out as a detective. Sam Spade my ass. The most exciting cases I'd ever had in Portland were tracking runaway girls from west hills mansions and repossessing cars. The girls were usually found with their boyfriends in some cheap flop on Interstate Avenue. Repo-ing the cars was just a matter of getting up earlier than the dead beats that hadn't made their payments. Phillip Marlowe my ass. The photograph of Bogart was placed in such a way that his nose was the bulls-eye. By now it was pock-marked and there was a cluster of darts sticking out of the middle of his face like the tail feathers of an unplucked Thanksgiving turkey.

When the phone rang, I didn't grab it on the first ring, even though I could have. You want to give the perception of being busy, so I threw a couple more darts before I answered. One of them went out the window.

She gave me her plea and her address. I got my Chevy Coupe out of the self-service lot on First and Washington Street and headed over the Morrison Bridge. It was raining again and the river was as gray as the sky.

The neighborhood was pretty typical for the near east side. Small, neat houses with well kept yards. The war had brought a lot of skilled laborers to the Kaiser shipyards and had filled these neighborhoods to capacity. She had an enormous pine tree in the front, probably the only survivor of the forest that used to cover this part of the valley.

I didn't have to knock on her door, she came running out as I parked in front of her place.
She was dressed like a "bobbysoxer" even though she was thirty. Plaid skirt, saddle shoes and a tight white cashmere sweater. My mind began to wander.

She reminded me why I was there, and as I shook myself to attention, she gave me more details.
Her husband and the neighbor guy got in a fight over the divided garage. Apparently the plug next door was a drinker and was pretty sloppy about where he left his yard tools. His name was Dixon and he was a night watchman at the paper mill in Oregon City. She told me that sometimes he would come home at seven a.m., get tanked up and mow the lawn in his undershirt. Her husband, on his way to his job as a bookkeeper, would have to move all Dixon's equipment to get his car out of the garage every morning. This had been going on for three years and was blowing up into major battles. One day the lawn mower, the next day the rakes and finally an old pickup truck that Dixon was using to haul stuff to the dump.

Of course the little woman liked to sleep in. She never got up and fixed her hubby breakfast, so she only heard the commotion. Beauty sleep. The previous morning she had heard a serious blow-up that culminated in what sounded like a brawl. By the time she finally made it to the window, she saw her husband's Plymouth drive off, but she hadn't seen him since. The receptionist at his office said he hadn't shown up for work and he was usually very regular.

"It's been twenty-four hours, I'm really getting worried." Jeezus I was having trouble concentrating. I hadn't seen a tan like this in Portland in a long time. "Paul just wouldn't leave without letting me know where he was going." she went on. "And we were getting along so well since I came back from Los Angeles."

"I'm going to have to talk to Dixon, do you think he's home?" I asked her. "I've heard him over there yelling at Irene all morning. You won't have any trouble finding him, follow the beer bottles." she said.

I knocked on the wooden fly screen door. Nobody answered. It squeeked as I pulled it open and let a couple of flies out. The front door was slightly open and I could hear a radio inside playing a Rinso jingle. I called out and immediately heard footsteps heading my way on the wooden floor.

Dixon looked like the cartoon character in a razor blade ad. No 12 sandpaper on a jaw that stuck out like an anvil. His two hundred and fifty pounds were evenly distributed around his middle. Before I could open my mouth to introduce myself, he bellowed out "Whaddaya want?" in a voice that was preceded by a wave of breath that nearly knocked me over. It was all I could do to smile and hand him my business card.

He held it up in the light to read it, turned it over to see what was on the other side, wadded it up and threw it back at me.

"I'm here at the request of your neighbor, Mrs. Price."
"Tell that bitch to turn down that jungle music."
This guy could scratch his belly and talk at the same time. Progress.

"She wondered if you had seen her husband Paul?"
"Yeah, I seen him. He was heading off to work, with his tail between his legs yesterday."
With that he laughed. It was a witticism. He should be writing for Jack Benny.

"You haven't seen him since?"
"He wouldn't have the nerve to show his face around here."

"Was there some sort of fight between the two of you?"
"Yeah. Two hits. I hit him and he hit the ground."
More laughter. He started to choke. Benny's ratings would soar.

"Look, smart-ass, I don't have time to waste on corn." I had to be the tough guy once in a while.
His face turned as sour as a kosher dill. Then it started to turn red. When he went from scarlet to crimson, his face exploded like the noon whistle down at the Brooklyn yards. He sent a haymaker right at my head. I dodged and came at him down low with a quick one-two. His stomach collapsed and he began gasping for air. Some yellow-green liquid spilled from his mouth and nose as he went down on his knees on the wooden front porch.
"Like I said, I don't have time for this." I gave him in my best Bogart. "What happened yesterday morning?"
"We had a scrap. He was pissed about the truck blocking his way. I knocked him down. He limped over to his car and then drove across my lawn and down the street. That's the last I saw of him."

"If I find out there's any more to this, I'm coming back. And pick up my card, if you think of anything else, I'm gonna hear from you. Right?"

"I'll call you. Just get the hell off of my property." he had definitely lost his bravado. He'd probably go in and slap Irene around as soon as I left.

When I walked back to the Price house, she was standing there watching me. I think she was aroused by the violence, because she had turned very flirtatious.

"I can see I called the right guy. You really get things done, don't you?" she purred.

"We'll see about that."

I told her I would check out some sources, but that her husband had probably gone to see a doctor or had rented a hotel room to hide out and lick his wounds for a while. I asked her for a photo of him and she went back into the house. I could hear her rummaging around in the roll-top desk near the front door. She came back out with one of those amusement park strips, four shots for a quarter. They were both in the photographs. In each frame, she struck a different pose. In each frame, he looked straight into the camera, without a smile.

I went back downtown to the Sherlock Building and rode the cage elevator up to my office on the third floor. I dug my office bottle of Jim Beam out of the bottom desk drawer and picked up the telephone. After I called my friend Marty down at the DMV and asked him to check out the license plate number that Mrs. Price had given me for her husbands Plymouth, I poured two fingers in a fairly clean glass and downed it neat.

Days like this made me want to go sign up at Vanport College and study economics. Another domestic violence situation, only this time between two neighbors. Over a lousy shared double garage. It was still raining outside and I was starting to get depressed. I kept thinking about that cashmere sweater. I went back down to the newsstand in the lobby and picked up a pack of Camels. Just as I reached my outer office door the phone started ringing. I got inside on the third ring and Marty was on the other end.

"I just got a call from Lieutenant Barnes down at homocide." Marty sounded a little stressed, it wasn't his day either. "He asked me to look up the registered owner of a car. Funny thing is, it was the same license you just asked me to look up. I stalled him off, I didn't want him to think I got the number from the files too quickly."

"Why was he calling?" I was hoping Barnes had given him an incentive to work quickly.
"It seems they are just now dragging that Plymouth out of the Willamette at the foot of Southeast Spokane, under the Sellwood Bridge." he said.

"Jeezus, was there anyone in it?"

"He didn't say. But I gotta go, I've got to call him right now."

I hung up and went down to the parking lot again. I drove straight down Front Avenue past the Journal Building and onto S.W. Macadam. Macadam took me a couple of miles South and parallel with the river and right up onto the Sellwood Bridge from the West side. As I drove over the bridge I could see the tow-truck and two black-and-whites parked right at the edge of the river on Spokane. The tow-truck had the Plymouth on its hook like a thirty-pound chinook salmon. As I took a left off of the bridge and drove down towards the river I could hear the rides over at The Oaks Amusement Park to the north. Never too early for a thrill.

Lt. Barnes stopped me with a raised palm as I got too close.
"What the hell are you doing here, gumshoe?"

"It seems you've picked up a car I was looking for."

"So were you also looking for the soggy stiff that was crammed in behind the wheel?"

"Have you I.D.'d him yet?"

"No maybe you can help us with that, smart guy."