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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Real Noir Life

The investigator I use most often is a retired LAPD detective. I’ll call him Nate Markowitz, because the name fits his nose. Nate tells a good story, and like many of his sort, any reference is likely to trigger one. Today I’m telling Nate about the James Wayne case, when I notice a sparkle in his eye.

Nate chortles. "Did I ever tell you about Johnny Fuck Fuck?"
I tell him no, because I am certain that if I heard that name, I would remember.

"Johnny was a character who I ran into a lot in those days. He was a small time crook and sometime snitch, doing us little favors to get out of his many jams. He had Tourette’s and when he got excited everything he said was punctuated by "fuck fuck."

"Well, you mention Wallich’s Music City. It was at Hollywood and Vine. And right next to it was Stuff, a seedy bar that for some reason became an in place when I first made detective, I think it was in ‘66.

"It’s my first week at the Hollywood Division as a detective and this senior detective, Van Vleck, says to me, 'hey kid come with me, I got to make an arrest.'

"Van Vleck was one of the old timers, and I'm new so I just tag along. He’s looking for this guy who’s supposed to be a big receiver of stolen goods in Hollywood.

"We go into this little bar, Stuff, and it’s real seedy, but it’s jammed. Van Vleck goes over to the bar and asks for a particular bartender, who’s not on duty yet. Then the owner, Johnny Vera was his name, he comes over and he obviously knows Van Vleck real well.

"He invites us up to his office to wait. I follow the two of them up these winding stairs that are like hidden near the restrooms, and we enter this office. I swear, the office was like the size of one in the White House, and furnished like for a king. Right above this tiny seedy little bar.

"Johnny Vera points to his private bar, and its bigger than the one downstairs. He says, 'Drink?' Van Vleck says, 'Sure.'

"Well, we’re sipping our drinks and guys are coming in and out, Vera gives them orders, and time goes by. Then two big guys come in carrying these marble pedestals, that must have weighed twenty, thirty pounds each. There were three of them, and these wrestler looking guys set them down in the middle of the floor of the office.

"Vera says 'Ok,' and he continues to talk with Van Vleck. I don’t remember what they were talking about. I was just a kid, and I was just soaking in the atmosphere. Some time goes by.

"Then, three girls come in, each one more gorgeous than the other. And Vera nods at them, and they take off their clothes. Right there in the middle of the room.

"I don’t know what’s going to happen. I look at Van Vleck and he’s got a big shit-eating grin on his face. So, I’m wondering. There’s three of them and three of us. And my first thought is, Gee, being a detective is gonna be a lot more fun than I thought.

"Then the girls get up on the pedestals and just stand there smiling. And some guys come in with paint cans and start painting their bodies. Swirls and flowers, you know, in these da-glow colors, red, blue, green. All over their bodies.

"We’re just sitting there, I’m sipping my drink and Van Vleck and Vera are talking away, and the girls are turning around and lifting their arms and spreading their legs so the painters can get into all the nooks and crannies, and then the phone rings. Vera says to Van Vleck, 'He’s here.'

"The three of us go downstairs to the bar and the new bartender gives Van Vleck a piece of paper and we leave, go to the address on the paper, which is a boarding house on Fountain.

"Van Vleck knocks and a guy opens the door. He’s dripping wet, just out of the shower. Van Vleck grabs him by the wet hair and drags him into the room, asks him if he’s got the goods, which are a bunch of men’s suits stolen from a store.

"The guy is scared of Van Vleck. He says, 'No, I don’t have any.'
'What do you call these,' Van Vleck says, pointing to some suits in a closet.
'They’re not hot, they’re mine,' the guy says.

"Van Vleck grabs him by the throat and pulls him up from his seat, puts his nose up to the guy's and says, 'You better not be fuckin’ lyin’ to me.'
'The guy says, I’m not fuckin’ lyin.’

"Van Vleck makes a phone call and ten minutes later a uniformed cop comes in with the owner of the store, the victim of the heist. He checks out the guy’s suits and says, 'They’re not mine.'

So then Van Vleck puts his nose in the victim’s face and says, 'You better not be fuckin’ lyin’ to me.'

"The guys scared, and I have to step in because Van Vleck’s face is red.

"Finally Van Vleck stalks out, really steaming and cursing, and I follow him down the stairs. 'Where we going?'

'That fuckin’ bartender fuckin’ lied to me.'
"By the time we get back to the bar, I have Van Vleck calmed down a bit so that at least he’s not going to kill the bartender. We go into the bar and it is really jumping. Lights are flashing and music is playing and on top of the bar are the three girls dancing like go-go dancers, but they’re not in cages, they’re on top of the bar naked but painted all over and everybody’s having a good time.

"I go over to the bar and there’s Johnny Fuck Fuck, grinning at me. 'Hey, Nate, that’s somethin’ ain’t it? Fuck. Fuck.' I shrug and watch the show.

"Then Johnny Fuck Fuck whispers, 'Hey Nate, watch this.' He pulls out a piece of red cellophane and puts it up to his eye then to mine and when I look at the girl with the red & pink body, she’s naked.

"Johnny Fuck Fuck giggles and gives me a blue cellophane and then a green cellophane and they work the same with the other two girls which Johnny thinks is great. He keeps mumbling, 'Fuck fuck.'

"Some time later I ran into Johnny Fuck Fuck again at the station.

"His brother had been hired to kill someone, got a couple of hundred for it. But they guy who did the hiring was working both ends and had told the guy who was supposed to be shot about it in return for more money. Johnny’s brother went to do the deed and the supposed victim shot him. Didn’t kill him, everybody was trying to figure out if it was a case, who to arrest and such.

"And Johnny Fuck Fuck was hanging around putting in his two cents or at least his two fucks.

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