takes on the case of...
A 6-Chapter Hard Boiler!
by Darryl Crawford
About the author
DISSOLVED INTO EVENING leaving long shadows on the ground.
Nothing but shade and solitude loomed around Leroy and me. At
last I had the time and place I wanted. For the past ten minutes
I’d been wanting to hit somebody. I cheerfully obliged
myself. When I bent down to where Leroy writhed on the concrete,
he cursed me, trying to catch his breath. I removed the gun from
his left armpit, tossed it skittering across the concrete.
I got in my car and got out of there.
A block from The Carousel I pulled to the curb and parked in the
enveloping shadows underneath a row of eucalyptus trees. A pair
of streetlights flanked the solitary entrance of the club. I’d be
able to see anyone who exited. I settled down to wait for Vinnie.
It was surprisingly short.
Vinnie drove a convertible, but he had enough grease in his hair to
keep it from getting messed up while speeding down the highway. I
let him get a good lead before I fell in behind him. He acted
oblivious to being tailed, which made it easier to remain unseen at
night. Sometimes I drove with my headlights off and never let his
taillights get out of view.
Vinnie turned inland, drove a few miles until a new suburb appeared on
the left. The neighborhood streets were full of cars at the
curb. His convertible finally pulled into a driveway hidden by
tall hedges and parked out of my sight. Stopping before I got to
the house, I left my car and walked the rest of the way. By the
time I reached the hedge boundary the front door of the modest home was
closing and I didn’t see who’d answered and let Vinnie in.
He had parked behind an old black touring car in the driveway, leaving
the key in the ignition. Using my pencil flash to read the
registration, I learned the convertible belonged to Dana
Starling. I attempted to inspect the touring car but found it
locked. Shining the flash through the glass on the driver’s side
failed to yield enough light to read the name on the registration
around the steering column. For general purposes I copied the
number on the license tag into my notebook before turning my attention
to the house.
No porch light on. I stalked boldly across the yard, stood for a
moment under a pepper tree. Light shined in only one
window. I went and crouched under it. I heard muted voices
inside, unable to distinguish any words or see through the closed slats
of the blinds.
A dog began to bark. Other dogs in other yards joined in.
The canine choir howled at length. One or two human voices took
solos at the last crescendo. After a while the cacophony dwindled
to the occasional yelp, voicing one last nighttime
communiqué. I strained to listen at the window.
During the outburst of noise outside the voices inside the house had
gotten louder. Then I heard two shots fired. A woman
screamed a long scream. Another gunshot. The dog chorus
took an encore.
Things happened quickly. The front door of the house burst open
and a girl with very long hair emerged, lit from the back. She
looked like Dana. Bright red blood like a splash of paint smeared
the bosom of her blouse. She made an anguished sound, glanced
back in the house, then toward the convertible. Down the porch
steps and across the yard she fled. When she reached the car she
noticed the gun in her hand as if wondering how it got there. She
groaned in disgust, slung it from her like she’d picked up something
slimy. Next she hopped into the convertible.
Maybe I should’ve followed the girl; after all Dana Starling was the
assignment. But someone might have been dying in the house.
While she started the car I drew my gun and went through the front
door. Vinnie, the pretty boy responsible for so many female heart
palpitations, sprawled in a pool of blood. All his life had
drained out of two bullet holes in his chest. The third bullet
had drilled a hole high in one wall. His coat lay open, his
holster empty of the pearl-handled chrome-plated gun.
In the back of my mind I was conscious of the sound of the convertible
departing and the dogs yapping. My head twisted around when I
heard a starter grind and another engine roar to life. The
touring car. A bad lifter rattled under the hood. Then
gears gnashed and tires screeched. By the time I got to the door
the long black car had finished backing out. It hurtled away into
Thinking fast, I sprang through the doorway, off the porch and onto the
lawn. I raced towards my car, having the presence of mind to
scoop up the pistol discarded by the girl who looked like Dana.
Fortunately the street was short which forced both drivers to use less
horsepower than they wished. They were still in sight when I
threw open the door of my car. With a snarl of gears I slammed
into a squealing u-turn that punished my transmission.
I don’t know how long the chase lasted. It surprised me none of
us were stopped for speeding or running red lights. I drove more
cautiously than either of them, at least slowing at intersections and
stop signs. They edged farther ahead of me.
My luck almost ran out in a near collision. A westbound station
wagon locked up its brakes at a four-way stop, skidded onto the
opposite curb, honking furiously. A quick check assured me no one
was hurt. I stamped my gas pedal again in pursuit.
Ahead the touring car screamed onto the coast highway which meant so
had the convertible. When I got there I slid through the turn and
raced after them. The long black car pulled steadily away from
mine. I couldn’t see the convertible anymore. The highway
patrol is never around when they’re really needed. As the thought
entered my mind a curve came up too fast and I left the road. My
car plowed through a strip of grass and dug ruts in the sand of the
beach before coming to an abrupt halt.
I hadn’t flooded the engine but lost precious time getting back on the
highway. Soon the speedometer inched past ninety miles an
hour. The sea on my left and the mountains on my right passed in
a blur. Minutes elapsed without me seeing the lights of another
car. Several roads turned inland and snaked through the
canyons. I remained on the highway, refusing to think about other
possible exits. Call it a hunch; when you do this as long as I
have you begin to have them.
That intuition paid off. I rounded a sharp bend. The
convertible squatted where it had spun off the road, empty, its
headlamps pointing in my direction. The touring car receded in
the distance, maybe a mile away. I continued on at an
Whoever was driving the big car at last got the bright idea to turn off
his lights. I saw them go out and panic gnawed at me. Only
by a miracle did I see brake lights when the driver slowed to exit onto
a canyon road. When I got to the turn I switched off the engine
and headlights, listening for the faulty lifter. It echoed in the
distance, mingling with the sound of the sea.
Since I could hear it the touring car wasn’t far away.
I had another hunch that the road dead-ended and decided to park and
proceed on foot. First, however, I examined the pistol on the car
seat where I’d chunked it when the chase began. It was chrome and
pearl like the one I’d seen inside Vinnie’s coat at The Carousel.
Of course the muzzle smelled like the gun had been fired
recently. I released the clip, yanked the slide back and ejected
the chambered cartridge. When I unloaded the seven-round clip a
total of six shells rolled around in the palm of my hand. Had the
gun been fired once, or twice? Some folks jack one in the pipe,
then load a last bullet back in the clip. That would leave six
The other scenario meant only one shot had been fired. But were
the two bullet holes in the Patucci kid made by the same gun? Not
necessarily, but I pushed the question from my mind. I had to get
The surf muttered intermittently in the distance as I got out of the
car. I’d parked among a clump of tired old palms, sagging
in the coolness of the night. The wind carried the smell of
oncoming rain. The mountains tumbled right down to the
beach. I waded through the dunes along the edge of the road into
total darkness. The holster’s harness dug uncomfortably into my
ribs. I got a lot of sand in my shoes before the road angled down
and I saw a glow of light ahead of me.
In the canyon below sprawled a three-story mansion, large by even
Beverly Hills’ standards. Its ramparts of industrial brick rose
above half a dozen bungalows. These lay scattered like tossed
dice behind the house in a thicket of evergreens. The occasional
light in a window winked among the trees. An eight foot fence of
the same industrial brick encircled the property. Five or six
acres it looked like to me. But I’m not really a good judge,
living in an apartment.
The ocean, tossing and groaning off to the left, rendered my approach
soundless. The road led down to a big steel gate set in a thick
metal track. I moved in closer. Lights flashed on suddenly,
bathing the gate in glare. I went belly down in the sand and
waited. A sweaty minute took forever to tick by. A discreet
copper plaque, set in the fence near the gate, was now readable: Lost
Pines. Over the throb of the surf I heard a sudden sound of
machinery. The gate opened ponderously. A dark Cadillac
rolled sleekly up the grade and whisked away. For a moment I
thought it might be the touring car, but I couldn’t see inside
anyway. The gate began to close and the lights started to
dim. The light went out completely before the gate slid fully
closed in its track.
I thrust myself up out of the sand and sprinted, barely making it
Back to Episode
2 :Dangerous Men
On to Episode 4 :Mean Woman
The Wrong Twin is copyright by Darryl Crawford. It may not be
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