Hip Cities and Lost Souls
"I want to go out," Marie said. It was not a request.
"No," Lance said, parked in front of the door, feeling a bit besieged. "Not until Mike and Dan come back."
"I'm not a prisoner," Marie said. "You can't keep me here against my will."
"I'm just doing what I'm told," Lance said. "Besides you know what happened last time. Those men are still out there somewhere."
"You weren't told to watch me, hero," Marie snapped, pacing back and forth in front of Lance, as if waiting for her chance go plunge past. "You're watching him remember?" She jerked her head in the direction of Bobo who sat against the wall across from Lance, a deck of cards spread out on the floor in his millionth game of solitaire. "As for Daddy's men, they can sit on Hollywood boulevard all they want. I won't go near the place. But this is L.A. and since I've been here I've seen nothing and done nothing and I intend to have a good time before we leave."
"Oh let her go," Bobo said, peeking up from his cards. "You can't expect a girl as pretty as her to sit here and look at us. Some people are made to party."
"No one asked for your opinion," Lance said, having heard similar arguments before, not from Bobo or about Marie, but in this same room. And now with Sarah gone, he wasn't going to lose another one to that urge. If Mike wanted to let her go, that was his business. But Lance wouldn't.
"Pardon me," Bobo said sarcastically and flipped a deuce down on an ace. "I see we have a regular fascist state here-- where a person can't even express an opinion."
"I'm doing what I've been told," Lance repeated.
"So were the Germans."
"Well, I won't have it," Marie said. "If you won't let me out the front door, I'll climb out from the balcony."
And with that she slid open the glass door and pushed out into the open air.
"NO!" Lance roared and moved to stop her. Bobo leaped for the now vacated door.
Lance stopped. So did Bobo, frozen in the act of running like a sports photograph. The balcony rail twanged from outside as Marie climbed up on it, shoes and purse clutched under one arm as her other hand reached out across the gap to grip the landing rail.
She cried out as one shoe fell back onto the balcony, then the other. She flew back into the room bare-foot, her face as pale as paste.
"They're outside!" she gasped.
"Who?" Lance asked, twisting around to the peep hole. But no one's face appeared.
"Daddy's men. I saw them on the stairs."
"Daddy's men?" Bobo asked, slowly easing back to his natural nonchalance.
"Tinkertons," Lance said, shoving Marie away from the balcony door. He locked it again and pulled the curtain across the glass, half expecting the army from the Boulevard to flow over the rail and through it before he could fix the latch.
Bobo looked shocked, his shoulders hitching up with the air of a frightened cat. "You mean the rumors are true?"
"About Mike robbing the cradle of a big time private cop," Bobo said, his voice dripping with admiration and awe.
"No one robbed any cradle," Marie said coldly. "I came because I thought it would be fun. Like cops and robbers. Or Jesse James. But it hasn't been as much fun as I thought. But if Daddy catches me, I'll spend the next four years in some exclusive European school, learning to be an old maid."
Someone pounded on the door. It had the typical official ring, yet without the vocal declaration.
"So what do we do?" Marie asked, her bold tone changing rapidly into panic and a series of searching looks at Lance and Bobo. She even looked towards the beaded curtain and the rooms beyond.
"No other doors to this place?" Bobo asked, his shoulders melting again, his form seeming to change before Lance's eyes, like a chameleon shifting from the guise of a fat and friendly fellow into something more threatening and balanced. Even the man's step was different, more calculated.
"No," Lance said.
"Stupid, Dan. What the devil is he doing living in a rat trap like this?" Bobo seemed thoughtful for a moment when the knock came again. "All right," he said. "Let me talk to them. Both of you keep out of sight."
The man loosened his tie and messed his hair, and eased the door open to the end of its chain, poking his nose through the opening. "What do you want?" he asked.
"Mr. Drummond?" a nasally voice asked from the other side.
"But Mr. Drummond lives here?"
"I live here," Bobo said in an impatient tone. "And you've interrupted me. Go away."
"But Mr. Drummond must live here."
"I don't know any Drummond," Bobo barked. "Now get away from my door before I call the cops."
There was a long pause, then whispered voices and some sense of confusion. The strangers outside the door scurried away from the door.
"They're on the balcony," Lance whispered as someone climbed over the rail. Bobo slammed the door and moved to the glass door, peering through an inch opening. Outside, men moved in the dark, squat men with the same doggish faces Lance remembered from the Boulevard.
Bobo opened the glass door and inch and put his mouth to the opening. "What do you want?" he asked coldly.
"The girl," a voice said. "We came for the girl."
Marie's hand gripped Lance's arm, the sharp nails digging deeply into the flesh. "Don't let them get me," she whispered. "Please!"
Gone was every bit of her previous sophistication and phoney demure. She looked and sounded like the little girl she was, staring out towards the pack of wolves with all the fear of a child.
"Fuck you!" Bobo told the men. "Get your own girl, this one's mine."
He yanked closed the glass door and relatched it, shaking his head at Lance. "We can't stay here," he said.
"And we can't get out," Lance said.
"Ah, but that's where you're wrong," Bobo said, emitting a startling smile, his eyes twinkling as he looked Lance up and down. He glanced at Marie. "You have another dress? For him."
"For me?" Lance said. "What the hell do I need a..."
"Not that would fit him," Marie said. "But his old lady might. She's a bit bigger around the hips and shoulders than I am."
"Find something quick," Bobo said. "I'm not sure how long we have before these idiots decide to break in."
Marie vanished through the beaded curtain and returned a moment later carrying several things. The red pants suit Lance had bought for Sarah in Denver their first time there. She also brought out an old dark wig and a case of Sarah's make-up.
"I'll never be able to make him look like me," Marie said, eyeing Lance's features, her gaze laughing at the prospect of trying, as if it was all a game again, part of some Butch Cassidy trick to escape.
"Wait one minute!" Lance said, stepping back from the advancing Marie. "I didn't volunteer for this. Why can't we dress you up?"
"Because they've seen me already," Bobo said.
Yet Lance didn't understand. Or wouldn't. Maybe it was the indignity of being mocked most of his life, his hatred of violence always viewed as something else, something akin to homosexuality. Real men dug blood. Real men liked violence and gore, and they definitely didn't dress up in women's clothing.
"No," Lance said. "I won't do it."
This time when the knock came, it was accompanied by a command to open the door. Not a cop's voice, but the distant urgent echo of a father in Detroit, wanting his child back.
"Please, Lance," Marie pleaded as Bobo slipped through the curtain and returned with yet another set of clothing. One of Lance's old bush hats, Sarah's sweat shirt and jeans.
"Put these on," he told Marie. "And pull the hat down low. Better yet." He took the wig and pushed it down over her bright red hair, then put the hat on top of that.
She struggled out of her dress and put on the clothing he'd provided. She was smaller than Sarah, but with a few added notches in the belt, she fit into the clothing-- and looked different enough from her original self to fool most people. Maybe even Mike. Like a young hippie straight from the midwest. At least in the dark.
"None of this will fool them under close examination," Bobo said. "But we're not going to give them time for that. The minute they come through the door, you two get out-- down the stairs and out to the street. Wait for me down at the park near the Ranch Market. I'll get there as soon as I can."
"What are you going to do?" Lance asked.
"Why-- try and stop them from searching the place, of course. If I don't offer some resistance, they'll start looking at you."
The knock came again, more insistent. "Open up!" the voice said, as someone tried to pull on the balcony door as well.
Bobo manhandled Lance and Marie to the wall between those doors, pushing their backs tight against it, whispering at them: "As soon as they rush in, you got out. The first ones won't try and stop you, and whoever they've got downstairs might not recognize either of you. If they do, start running."
Bobo yanked open the door. "What is this?" he moaned at the men charging in, two at first, then more, flooding in like water from a broken dam. "You people got a warrant?"
As soon as they passed, Lance and Marie slipped out onto the landing where the dark and empty stairs greeted them. The soft orange glow of the building's external lights illuminated faces in the drive, bull-dog faces smoking cigarettes and staring up at the balcony as if expecting Marie to drop down from it. They looked up startled when Lance and Marie reached the bottom stair, searching closely their faces in the dim light, more interested in Lance than Marie. They remembered Lance. They were angry at him for his stunt on the Boulevard. Perhaps they even had a file on him by this time, and fingerprints-- yet without Marie he was just another hippie lost in this world of hippies. Their interest waned as Lance hurried on, down the drive to the street, then a sharp right up it towards Fountain. Others looked at them from parked cars on either side, or groups of them standing on the corners. But none stopped them.
"I don't believe this," Marie whispered. "This must be costing Daddy a fortune."
"Shush," Lance said, taking her arm more firmly and pushing her on, around the corner and down Fountain towards Vine. A block down, Lance noted more of the army parked there, waiting and watching for someone to slip out through one of the back yards. They had surrounded the block, watching every inch of it for some possible trick. Even if there had been a back door, Marie wouldn't have been able to use it.
Daddy wanted her back and would stop at nothing to have her back.
"Hurry," Lance whispered and increased his pace, pushing her for the next three blocks till they reached the park, feeling her quiver beneath his fingers. Something about her helplessness made her attractive, even dressed as she was.
"So where is he?" Lance mumbled, stiff from lying on the hard ground, pacing back and forth in front of the bushes which hid Marie. She, looked up from the grass, shaking her head slowly from side to side. Not bored exactly, but not happy either. Puzzled over something. Confused.
"Has it been that long?" she asked in a vague voice.
"Long enough," Lance said, his mind ticking through the progression of possible events. Could the Tinkertons have actually hurt him. They'd have been peeved, and a hundred years ago, might even have shot them all dead in the street like they had other outlaws. Perhaps they'd handed Bobo over to the police.
But another possibility grew in Lance as the minutes ticked on, one less heroic, one that would have Dan at Lance's throat.
"Come on," Lance said, grabbing Marie up by the hand.
"Where are we going?"
"To find Bobo."
"But he said he would meet us here."
"I know what he said. I just don't believe it. I think he split and I don't want to have to face Dan if he did."
"But we can't go back to the house."
"No, but we can look around the neighborhood. Where ever Bobo went, he did so on foot."
"He could have taken a cab."
"No," Lance said. "At least not right away. My impression is that he doesn't live far enough for that. And I think he might head for the Boulevard. He likes to keep in touch with things, and he'd stick out less on the crowded street than on dark side ones."
He could still smell the gun smoke and blood as they pulled into the driveway, and see the exploding face again and again in his mind.
Buckingham's out to get you! Buckingham's out to... Bucking...
Mike simply refused to accept Demetre's interpretation. There were no more heros. Not in the age of Nixon and Charlie Manson. Only small people, rubbing up against the machine, going mad with dreams of dreaming. Mike had been one of them. And been broken by it. Not quite able to get revenge, the way Demetre seemed to believe.
No heros, and yet...
"Mike," Dan said, the sound of something in his voice jerking up Mike's head. "I think there's something wrong."
The van stopped short of the pile, headlights illuminating bits of familiar furniture, the bed from the back of the van, along with suitcases and backpacks, and boxes of clothes. A pyre of Lance's possessions waiting for a match.
The old lady from the apartment below stepped out in front of the mess, shaking a finger at them. "Mr. Drummond?" she asked when she'd reached the driver-side window.
"Afraid not, lady," Dan said, glancing darkly at Mike. "The last time I saw him he was upstairs."
"Well, he isn't there now," the woman said coldly. "No one's upstairs any more."
Dan's look grew more concerned. "I don't follow you."
"We've evicted them," the woman said. "This is there stuff. And if you don't move it right now, we'll have it carted away for junk."
"Look, lady," Mike said, leaning across the cab to see the woman. "We're only his friends."
"Some friends. Hippies!" the woman said in disgust. "We thought they were a nice couple. A quiet couple. Otherwise we would never have rented to anyone so young. But we've had enough complaints and since they haven't paid their rent..."
"We'll take the stuff," Dan said.
"Dan!" Mike hissed. "It'll take us an hour to load all that in here. And with the way the engine's been acting up, the weight might just be the last straw."
"Don't argue, Mike," Dan said, his gaze begging for Mike to agree.
"All right," Mike mumbled. "But if the cops see us driving around like that, they'll think it all stolen."
The woman stepped back into her doorway and watched as they lifted and loaded the stuff.
"I don't get you," Mike said, huffing as they pushed the pieces of bedframe into the van, the old lady out of sight for the moment.
"Don't you?" Dan said, leaning against the open door. "Then you're not thinking. Even if Lance wasn't my friend, there's something upstairs worth worrying over."
"You mean to tell me the shipment's still up there?" Mike said in horror.
"I packed it all in the refrigerator for safe keeping. It's the last place I figured he would think to look."
"And the last place the old lady would look," Mike mumbled, wondering just how long it had been since Lance had left. The woman would have been in a hurry to get everything out before his return. The refrigerator and its contents could likely wait until later at her convenience.
"Hey lady," Mike shouted and moved around the front of the van. The woman looked up sharply, alarm crossing her face. "We still have some stuff upstairs."
The alarm shifted into suspicious indignity. "No you don't, young man," she said. "We cleaned everything out."
"But not the refrigerator."
Now, her gaze flickered with confusion. "The refrigerator? You certainly don't want the food back, too?"
"It isn't food, it's medicine," Mike said.
"Well, forget it. My son bolted the door closed, and I won't open it for anyone. You people have made enough of a mess up there. Broken walls, ruined rugs. I don't give you a chance for any more mischief. Get your stuff and go away before I call the police."
"That tells us," Dan said and coughed, when Mike had circled the van again. "But we can't leave the dope. It's worth a fortune and perhaps even my hide."
"If it's still there."
"Why wouldn't it be?" Dan asked, his brown eyes suddenly looking panicked.
"For the same reason the others aren't around," Mike said, gaze studying the apartment's balcony which hung over the top of the van. "Where are they?"
"She must have thrown them out," Dan said.
Mike shook his head. "I don't think so. I have a feeling she snuck in when they weren't around."
"But why would they leave? We told them to stay."
"Exactly my point. Come on. Let's finish loading this stuff, then we'll worry about getting the dope."
"But she said she bolted the door," Dan said.
Mike looked at Dan's face, half of it lost in the shadow of the hat, the other half distorted by the odd reflection of house and van lights. "I've never been bolted out of an apartment in my life. I don't think this one'll be much different."
Dan grinned, and both hurried the loading of Lance's possessions, the old woman circling around to watch them more closely, her arms folded across her chest, her face smug with the indignant air of an offended witch.
The dope was gone. Not a pill or popper left anywhere in the refrigerator, and Dan stared at the food remains as if he would soon be sick, the world spinning ever so slightly out of control around his head.
Bobo had ripped him off again!
That much stuck in his throat. He couldn't cough or swallow. He couldn't even stand without gripping the counter behind him.
Murder danced in his heart. He fingered the butt of the pistol Mike had given him. One shot. That was all he needed. Just one single bullet to the heart. Money or not, he was that enraged.
"I--," he said, and looked up helplessly at Mike.
"Come on," Mike said, grabbing his arm and leading him back towards the balcony door. "And step quiet. You want the old lady to call the cops?"
Step quiet? Dan was lucky he could walk, or stagger, or think. And wasn't completely sure how he got back over the rail to the stairway platform. Everything was a haze with visions of his own death popping out of it, the way the shot had out of the fog at Venice, or the car had tumbling over the mountain outside Denver.
"He might not have it," Mike said, somewhat later when Dan sat behind the wheel of the van again, turning the key, listening to the engine sputter to an unhealthy life. "Someone searched the place again."
Dan turned and blinked Mike's face into focus. "The old lady said her son..."
"No, this was a pro. Not a cop, I think. But someone just as thorough."
Dan pondered this a moment, then shook his head. "You don't know Bobo. He's got a nose like a hound. He probably sniffed out the dope. Which is why he wasn't here when the old lady came to collect the rest."
"That doesn't explain the others."
"No," Dan admitted. "But it'll teach me to leave the fucker alone next time."
"You didn't leave him alone," Mike said, turning his gaze to the street and the dark shadows, and the strange faces which seemed engraved in each island of dark. A suddenly loneliness came over him, the pang of which was something new to him. He missed Marie. And this startled him.
The lone wolf aching for his mate?
It never occurred to him that she had come to mean so much, hinting of feelings he'd buried after his time with Chris, determined to never feel them again. They hurt too much when betrayed. They reminded him of the child he would never see again. They brought back the hatred and rage.
"I might as well have," Dan said, noting none of this from Mike's turned face. "Who the hell can expect of pacifist to stop Bobo? What would Lance do if the man decided to leave, tackle him? I wonder if he kidnapped them? I wouldn't put it passed him. He's not the man I thought I knew."
"If Bobo is Buckingham, things could be worse," Mike said.
"That's right!" Dan said, smacking himself in the head. "That's what the whole Venice thing was about. And with him not here... Damn it, Mike! I'm sorry. Maybe we ought to drive up to the Boulevard and have a look for him. And what about this search? Any ideas?"
"Tinkertons," Mike said as if cursing. "It had their touch. Or should I say, lack of it. They look at things, collecting information, then use it later when it's to their convenience. They could have called the cops and had Bobo and the others thrown in jail."
"Not Bobo," Dan said. "He wouldn't let no rent-a-cop take him."
"There would have been too many for him to resist-- and it would explain the missing dope."
Dan scratched under his hat, then glanced over at Mike. "So what then? We go look for them at the station?"
Dan's palms sweated on the steering wheel. He preferred his own theory to Mike's. At least in that scenario, Bobo had the dope with a chance of getting it back. Though through all this, he had the feeling of chasing ghosts. First the money, then Buckingham, now the dope. If the cops had Bobo and the dope, Dan had some massive problems. And it was only a matter of time before Denver caught up with him.
"No," Mike said after a time of silence. "Not yet."
Was that a note of hope in his voice? Or despair? It had become difficult to tell with Mike. Dan had heard the note before, a flirting kind of dangerous hope which had kept them moving in New York during the bad-smack-epidemic. It was a note of desperation. If Bobo was Buckingham, then Marie was already dead.
Dan studied Mike's face carefully, noting the deepened wrinkles around the eyes, the perpetual squint now glinting with two enraged eyes. If Marie was dead, then nothing would stop Mike from renting his fury. Not just on Bobo, but on civilization, and there would be little chance for Dan to recover anything: dope, money, or even the old and carefree life style. There would only be fear, of cops and Denver to look forward to.
The van turned onto Highland. The crowds shrank as the early morning deepened, creating a ghost town out of Hollywood. The real ghosts huddled in the doorways, eyes chemically pasted open. Dirty old men prowled the curbside looking for prostitutes and gays.
"I want to make a deal with you, Mike," Dan said.
"What kind of deal?"
"Bobo's mine no matter how this turns out."
Mike's face clouded, the dark eyes flashing with passing street lights and bargain basement sales. "I can't promise that," he said in a tight voice. "Not if he's hurt Marie."
"And if he hasn't?"
"Then you can do what you want with him."
"All right!" Dan said, grinning. "But we won't rush into anything either. We don't know for certain that he's Buckingham, or that anything's happened to Lance or Marie. You said there were Tinkertons there. They might have snatched Marie."
"I know," Mike said swallowing with difficulty."
"And if they do, any ideas as to how to get her back?"
It was the same pain, hearing the judgement about his kid from the court, or watching the law drive off with him in Detroit. The helplessness of a single person against the machine-- a system of justice that had no room for human beings inside it. No sense of mercy.
"I don't know," Mike mumbled.
Dan turned the van onto Hollywood Boulevard. The four corners at this end still had crowds, the last vestige of hip community fighting the inevitable change from night to day, resisting the blue and silver police uniforms prodding them away, hustling them on with threats of tickets or jail, Freep sales people and bikers on the north side, Jesus Freaks and Gays on the south.
"There's Billy," Mike said. "He waving at us. Pull over."
"Here? With this load of shit? The cops'll have a field day if we do."
"Then pick him up, for God's sake!" Mike insisted. "That was his boy back in Venice."
Dan grumbled, but downshifted. Mike threw open the passenger side door and made room for the man on the seat, shoving close to Dan as he shifted again.
Billy slid in and slammed the door, smelling of pot and alcohol. But his face bore the tight expression of pain and grief.
"Keep driving," he said. "It's hot as hell around here."
Dan needed no such advice and had started the van forward, away of the curious cops at the curb, their turning heads like turrets to a tank, waiting with ticket books and hand cuffs.
"What happened out there?" Billy asked, looking straight into Mike's face, his own eyes bruised. His hands shook as he tried to grip the dash board.
"You mean Venice?" Mike asked coldly. "I'm surprised you knew about the meeting."
"Why?" Billy snapped. "I got a fucking invitation. I thought it was the cops."
"You were invited?" Mike said, repeating it several times under his breath before looking to Billy's face again. "How?"
"By way of that slob at the Free Press office," Billy said, staring out at the street, but not seeming to see anything. "It's why I was so suspicious. Freep Bob doesn't like me, and there's rumors about him being a snitch."
"You're full of shit," Dan said. "He's no more snitch than I am."
Billy glanced across Mike at him. "I've had my doubts about you, too, Newhaul," he said. "You are Bobo's partner."
"Ex-partner," Dan said. "And he seems to have a lot of those."
"Most of them are dead or busted. Yet you're not."
"Neither am I," said Mike interrupting a glaring match between the two men. "Now what is all this about Free Press Bob? Who says he's a snitch?"
"The talk is around," Billy said. "People are saying he made a deal with the pigs to keep them from closing his office down after that narco thing."
"I don't believe it," Dan said.
"I didn't say I knew for certain it was true. But it's what people think. Now it's your turn. What happened down at the pier?"
"Then you weren't there?" Mike asked.
"After what happened on Vermont? No way! I sent someone. He didn't come back. I figured the cops got him. But if you're here, then maybe they didn't."
"Your boy's dead," Mike said softly.
"Dead?" Billy said, his face suddenly pale. Something in his voice suggested some closeness to the victim. A lover, maybe? Or a relation? Maybe both. Dan had heard rumors of Billy's varied sexual habits. "Who did it?"
"Buckingham, from what we can gather," Mike said. "But whoever it was blasted our contact, too, and may have been gunning for me."
"And you're still in town?" Billy said, looking honestly awed.
"My old lady's missing," Mike said. "The apartment got raided. I think by Tinkertons."
Billy nodded. "I heard they were in town asking questions about you. But none of us wanted to take them on. Besides, if all they wanted was the girl, to hell with them."
"We don't know for sure if they have her," Dan put in. "Bobo was in the apartment at the time. He might have her for some reason. And Lance was with them, too. Seen any sign of him?"
"The pacifist? Sure."
"What?" Mike exploded. "Where?"
"On the Boulevard not five minutes ago."
"Park this thing!" Mike commanded. "We've got to find him. Was he alone?"
"No," Billy said, frowning as if in an effort to recall. "He was with some dark-haired dude in a bush hat. I didn't get a close look. But the minute the pacifist saw me, he darted off. He looked nervous about something." Billy grinned. "The poor devil doesn't trust me much. He seems to think I want to fuck his old lady."
"Don't you?" asked Dan.
"Sure, why not. Everybody else does."