takes on the case of...
A 6-Chapter Hard Boiler!
by Darryl Crawford
About the author
THE SEAFOOD JOINT
WAS A SWANKY PLACE on the beach, partially built out over the dancing
waves. I smelled neither grease nor fish in the air
outside. Inside, a plate-glass wall enhanced the view of the
water, sparkling in the late afternoon sun. The dining room was
deserted, the supper crowd not due for another hour. I asked to
be seated in Lisa’s section.
A few minutes later a girl with her hair in a bun tip-toed my way, cute
in a nautical outfit. Her beauty seemed more subdued than the
girl in all those pictures. I figured her to be a year or two
younger than the missing Starling girl, about nineteen.
She set a glass of iced water on my table. “I’m Lisa, can I help
you?” she said almost shyly.
“I’m working for the Starling family, I’d like to ask you a few
questions about Dana.”
“Okay. Did you want to order something, too?”
I got the Friday special from the menu. Lisa and I talked while
we waited for the kitchen.
“I understand you have reservations about Dana’s boyfriend?”
“You’ve been talking to her mother. She called to talk to me just
“She asked I get in touch with you about this man.”
“Uh-huh. Do you know his last name?”
“Patucci. Vinnie Patucci. I can’t stand him.” She
cupped a hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have
“That’s all right, impressions count. Is he mixed up in any shady
dealings that you know of?”
Lisa lowered her voice even though no one could hear us. “He
might be. I’ve overheard some conversations with Dana. And,
and he carries a gun. I know that for a fact.”
“What does he carry one for?” I didn’t mention the automatic in
the rig under my jacket.
Mild contempt colored her words. “He brags all the time he’s a
professional gambler. He sometimes wins big in Vegas and says he
needs a gun in case anyone tries to heist him.”
“Why would Dana be attracted to that kind of man?”
Lisa wrinkled her pretty forehead. “I guess she only likes the
dangerous ones.” Something told me Lisa did, too.
“The dangerous ones?”
“Yeah, only the wild ones excite her. That’s her reason. I
guess Dana is a little wild herself, if you know what I mean.”
Lisa looked away from me when she said it.
“I’m afraid I do. Do you know if Dana’s with Vinnie?”
“Maybe. It’s not unusual for her to spend time with him, lots of
it. He never spent that much time with me,” she blushed, “I used
to date him. Before Dana. She’s welcome to him.”
I didn’t believe that but tried to steer her back on track. “Can
you tell me where she is right now?”
Lisa shook her head. She looked very vulnerable.
“Is she living somewhere other than your apartment?”
She hesitated. “No.”
Friends will lie for friends. I saw nothing to be gained by
calling Lisa a liar, so I said: “Do you know how I can get in touch
with this Vinnie Patucci?”
“Probably at The Carousel.”
“Where Dana met Vinnie. She works there sometimes.”
“Mrs. Starling didn’t say anything about that.”
“Dana’s mother doesn’t know, she wouldn’t like it.”
“Is it the kind of place I think it is?”
She waited a long time before speaking, but it was easier for her to
tell me than to tell Dana’s mother. “It’s a burlesque house, peep
shows and stuff. Dana says that gangsters own it.”
“Why would a girl work in a place like that?” I wondered aloud.
“To meet dangerous men?”
I grinned at her: “You’re wise beyond your years,
A bell dinged at the counter in back and she went away for my
food. Lisa gave me directions to The Carousel while I ate.
I left a big tip. She may not have told the whole truth, but
she’d told more than she thought she had.
Traffic on the coast highway was sparse and I got
to The Carousel before dark. Slightly out of the way, you had to
know where you were going to find it. The proprietors hadn’t
spend a cent on neon or advertising but plenty on landscaping to keep
things nice and private. The two-storied building they operated out of
looked like old money to me. Set back among the shade trees, it
presented an austere exterior. A paved parking area in the back
was almost full. At the door I found out the club was for members
only. Twenty of Mrs. Starling’s bucks purchased me a ‘weekend’
A drink at the bar cost more of her dollars. I ordered another
after the delicious first one. The main room looked like a
poorly-lit ski lodge with lots of tables and chairs occupied by men and
women who weren’t their wives. Available girls sat in clusters,
several of them smiled at me. I smiled back. I didn’t see
anyone resembling the pictures I’d seen of Dana. Four musicians
played a tune with lots of stops and starts in it. On a small
stage a buxom young thing got herself undressed in time with the
lurching rhythms. When she finished a dark petite beauty took her
place and the combo grooved into a slinky bump and grind.
Hoods in tuxes watched the clientele from the murky corners, others
milled around. I didn’t see a single one without a bulge under
the left armpit. I recognized one of the guests: Tony the
Dentist. They called him that because he allegedly extracted a
couple of teeth from an uncommunicative rival using a pair of
pliers. He and two of his triggermen sat at a table close to the
Would I see Dana in there? The mysterious Vinnie? What kind
of a play was I going to make?
A redhead with fiery eyes and a lowcut dress about two sizes too small
for her strolled over. “Sitting here by yourself?”
“I guess not anymore. Buy you a drink?”
“Why not? I’m easy.” I made no comment. Closer up,
her eyes looked glazed, like she’d been smoking reefer.
The bartender appeared while we introduced ourselves. Her name
was Suzanne and she wanted a daiquiri. I ordered one for her and
a beer for me. More dollars on the expense account.
“I ever seen you in here before?”
“First time in. A friend told me about it, said I could have a
real good time here.”
“He wasn’t wrong.” She giggled, and she was too old to be
I downed a healthy pull of beer. Might as well take the bull by
the horns: “He told me to look up a girl named Dana.”
Suzanne sniffed. “I haven’t seen her in here, not yet anyway.”
“Does she work here?” I said with a meaningful look at the stage.
“She might serve some drinks in here but, no, nothing like that, her
boyfriend won’t let her. He’s got his pride, don’t you know?”
Suzanne fumbled around in a tiny purse for a cigarette. When she
got it lit she put her hand on my knee. She lowered her voice,
“You seem like a nice guy, Felix dear, so take my advice. I don’t
think you wanta be messing around with Vinnie’s girl.”
She was making it easy for me. “Who’s Vinnie?”
“Vinnie Patucci, he’s a real tough boy. And let me warn you, he’s
very jealous. Jealous and tough, a bad combination. He beat
some guy up bad in here one night cause he thought he was flirting with
“I’ll try not to be too scared.”
She couldn’t decide whether I was kidding her or not. So she
continued without breaking her train of thought: “All the girls pant
for Vinnie Patucci.” Her eyes spoke volumes.
“Why is that?” In the last hour I’d met a girl who hated him and
another who adored him. It would be interesting to meet the cause
of all this heartache in person.
“Like I said, he’s tough. And very masculine.”
One of the dangerous boys, I thought. “What does he
“Part of it’s just the way he carries himself. He can have any
girl he crooks his finger at.”
I tried to sound only half-interested. “I meant what’s he do for
“Nice work if you can get it.”
“He plays the tables and the ponies.”
“Apparently the ladies, too. My friend says Dana is a splendid
creature, in his words.”
She sniffed again. “Don’t I interest you?”
“Don’t be jealous. My friend told me . . .”
“Just who is this friend of yours anyway?”
I’d pushed too hard. “You wouldn’t know him.”
“If he comes in here, I know him.”
I flapped an airy hand. “Forget him, forget Dana and this Vinnie
character, too. Have another daiquiri.”
“Let me visit the powder room first.” She vanished into an alcove
with a cigarette machine against one wall and a row of payphones
against the other. I thought she wouldn’t come back, but she
did. After that the conversation got mundane. Which suited
me. I shouldn’t be asking too many questions in a place where the
staff packed heat. It’s nice to know that a man can take care of
himself, and I can, but a bullet makes no distinctions.
An hour and three drinks later Suzanne said, “Oh, there’s Vinnie
now. Isn’t he gorgeous?” A cocky young punk in a tan suit
and a blue shirt and two-tone shoes made an entrance like he owned the
place. Brillcreme stayed in business because of guys like
him. His hair almost glowed, it curled up in the back. I
failed to see what all the fuss was all about. He looked like a
punk, not an actor.
Tony the Dentist got up to leave as the Patucci kid came in. They
spoke briefly, I couldn’t tell about what. Both of them looked at
their watches. They weren’t exactly smiling at each other.
Tony headed for the door followed by his two boys. Vinnie moved
away to his table mumbling to himself. A blonde and a brunette
sheathed in evening gowns joined him as soon as he sat down. A
waiter hovered, speaking familiarly to Vinnie.
“If one of those girls is Dana I don’t see what the fuss is all about.”
I said to Suzanne.
“I thought I told you she wasn’t here.”
“That’s right, you did. Wonder where she is.”
“Are you going to start asking questions again?”
“You’re the one who brought it up.”
She looked at me like she was going to sniff again. “Excuse me
for just a second,” she said archly.
She stood up from her barstool and, with her back very straight, walked
over to Vinnie, whispered something in his ear. He looked over
his shoulder at me with a sneer forming on his face. Suzanne
departed the room without a backward glance to me. She went
through some parted curtains and I never saw her again. Vinnie
held a hurried conference with the two girls at his table. Then
he pushed his chair back, came over and slid onto the barstool vacated
He fixed a belligerent stare on me.
Which I ignored.
He asked the bartender for a drink and lit a cigarette. I sized
the kid up with a sidewise glance. Younger than I’d have thought,
early twenties, sober but maybe hopped up, with dull black eyes, an
effeminate nose and lips. Not as tough as Suzanne had thought and
certainly no match for Tony the Dentist, but he didn’t come across as a
milquetoast either. He allowed me to see the chrome-plated pistol
with pearl grips inside his tan jacket.
“Looking for me, pal?” His eyes were heavy-lidded.
“Do I know you?”
“You was asking questions about me.”
“I was making conversation with a stranger.”
“More like pumping somebody for information.”
“You the guy who’s engaged to Dana Starling?”
His hostile routine intensified, one of many reactions I had
anticipated. He snarled some foul words to me.
I continued without missing a beat. “I’m a friend of the
family. The mother’s worried, hadn’t heard from her.”
His oily black eyes shined suddenly. He raised his voice louder
than ever when he said: “You can tell Dana’s mother that Dana’s doing
He pushed away from the bar, glanced away from me, then back. I
wondered how many of his friends worked in the joint. My scalp
crawled. Two hoods in tuxes stepped up and stood at each side of
“Any trouble?” one of them asked Vinnie.
“Nah,” he said nonchalantly. “This gentleman was just leaving,
I chuckled, the kid was too young to know better. There was
nothing more to learn in there. The best thing to have done was
leave. Instead I said to Vinnie, “Why don’t you tell me where I
can find Dana?”
Vinnie uttered something uncomplimentary to me, this time in one of the
“Beat it, chum,” said one of the tuxes. “Leroy here will escort
you out.” He pointed with his thumb at the big bruiser beside
him. Leroy smiled an unfriendly smile at me.
I gave them one of my own. “I’m waiting for my change.”
“You ain’t got no change. We want you out!”
“And find out what he knows,” Vinnie said to Leroy’s back.
Leroy clamped a big fist around my arm. Everyone in the room
watched the scene play itself out, even the stripper. I shook
loose from Leroy’s grip and headed for the door, in no hurry. He
marched behind me on my heels. He followed me out into the
Back to Episode
1 :Many Faces
On to Episode
3 :Two Holes
The Wrong Twin is copyright by Darryl Crawford. It may not be
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