INNOCENCE by Lee Capp: Chapter Four

 

 

     We met up with Linh and Matt around six hours later at the city airport. Back in olden times, when Los Angeles was considerably smaller than today, it had been on the outskirts of town. Now, it was in the middle, surrounded on all sides by teeming life. It still proved to be a handy location for the many local well-heeled owners of small aircraft. I guess it should have come as no surprise to me to find out that old Hollywood Hank was one of these. That information, as well as the exact location of his out-of-state spread, had come to me via my personal human super computer, Emily Hatcher.

It was getting late in the day, and as I didn’t intend to make my move before morning, I phoned back to our hotel and ordered another room for the McCabes. The fact that the hotel was booked solid didn’t seem to matter very much as soon as I dropped the name of Holman. All of a sudden, they not only had a room, but a room with a view—and an amazingly nice one as it turned out. I tried giving them my credit card information, but they weren’t interested, already having orders from Holman to not let me spend a dime.

Rank has its privilege, I guess.

We watched Matt stick the landing of the small plane and taxi in to where we were waiting near a tiny greasy spoon diner call the Skyway Café. I was immensely relieved to note that he seemed to know exactly what he was doing.

We grabbed a waiting cab to get back to the hotel.

“So, where we heading?” Matt enquired.

“Holman’s back-yard.”

“Literally?”

“Yep. He’s a pilot too. Got a landing strip attached to his property.”

“Sweet.”

“Yep again. Gonna make our little surprise complete. No need to talk our way through the security gate at the end of his rather long and impressive driveway. My guess is his rent a cops aren’t going to pay too much attention to another small plane dropping in. They’ll figure we’re supposed to be there.”

“I can always call an emergency if I need to,” Matt said. “That gives me the legal right to hand anywhere that’s flat enough—including private strips.”

“What constitutes an emergency?” I asked.

“Sometimes not much,” Matt grinned. “Maybe just needing to take a dump real bad. The on-board restroom is kind of non-existent.”

“Where’s his place, Johnny?” Linh enquired.

“I’ve got the exact coordinates right here for Matt. Just west of Las Vegas, and almost up against Red Rock Canyon Park. Beautiful country. Looks to me from Google earth that he doesn’t have a neighbor within sight.”

“Big place, I’ll bet.”

“And then some, Linh. Somewhere between large mansion and medium castle.”

“We sure he’s gonna be home?” Matt asked.

“Not a hundred percent, but we’ll know before we land. No plane, no Holman. Apparently, it’s the only mode of transportation he uses to get out there.”

“What’s he got?”

“A twin-engine prop. I don’t know what kind.”

“Doesn’t matter. We’ll see it from the air if it’s there in the open. Hangar?”

“Not that I could see from Google, unless he’s added one recently. In the screen-shot I looked at, he musta been home because I could easily make out the plane parked no farther out than a hundred yards or so from the house.”

“I’ll file a flight plan tonight, Johnny. It’s probably only a little over two hundred miles, so it won’t take us long to get there. I’d like to leave early—say seven o’clock takeoff?”

“Sounds good to me, Matt. What are you flying anyway?”

“Single-engine Cessna. Model 172 to be exact. Sweet little ride. We’ll be a bit cramped.”

“Why so small?”

“Well, it’s a first plane for me. I got it used. It’s in great shape and the price was right. I didn’t want to spend an arm and a leg, because I want to get a twin like Holman’s as soon as I’m certified to fly one.”

“More training?”

“Lots. But I’m going to do it. I wasn’t altogether sure I’d take to it, but it’s pretty much been easy for me. My trainers all called me a natural.”

“How ‘bout jets?”

“Maybe, Johnny—we’ll see.”

“What made you take this up anyway?”

“Well, after my head injury a few years ago, I really couldn’t fool around with watches anymore. Or for that matter, do anything that require very fine motor-skills. My fingertips just don’t want to work the way they used to sometimes. Concert pianist is out.”

“Wait a minute, Matt. You’re telling me you can’t repair a watch anymore, but you can fly people around in airplanes with no problem?”

He laughed. “Don’t worry, fraidy-pants. I’ll get you there and back, and muss-up not a wispy old white hair on your head.”

“Don’t make too much fun,” I said. “You’re getting more than a few of your own.”

“That’s for sure,” he admitted. “Time’s marching on for me now, same as for everybody else. I just turned twenty-six, Johnny—going on ninety in dog years.”

“How do you feel about that, Matt?”

“I feel just great. Just like all the rest of mankind. Doing my best and enjoying each moment as it comes. Being a husband and a father, there’s lots of good moments to savor.”

“Sounds like a winner,” I opined.

“It is,” he agreed.

“Al still with your mom, Linh?”

“He sure is, Johnny. She’s starting to worry me a little too. I may have to file charges against her pretty soon for kidnapping.”

I smiled. Nice to see close, happy families.

Our cab reached the hotel. We all enjoyed a fabulous meal in the rather ornate and fashionable dining room. As I expected, no check reached our table. I didn’t even need to sign. Every employee in the establishment seemed to know exactly what our deal was.

Kind of fun—but on the other hand, I missed Denny’s just a bit too.

We all retired to our rooms, with a plan to meet to meet downstairs early in the morning—hoping to avoid the hotel palace guard. I would leave a message for Gerald’s limo driver, telling him that his services would not be required. But the time he got to the hotel, I expected to be sitting in Holman’s living room. That was if everything went well. Sadly, my enterprises didn’t have a history of that.

I slept the night soundly alongside Maggie—the steak and crab legs settling very well indeed.

 

Morning came early. My first cogent thought of the day was that I probably didn’t want to take up the life of a pilot—not if it meant rolling out of bed and getting out of the house before the outdoor gods even turned the air on. Maggie was her usual chipper self. Early mornings or late nights seemed to have no effect whatsoever on her.

The four of us joined up and assembled at the front desk as I wrote out the message for the limo driver. Once outside, it was easy to flag down a cab, and once more we were on our way to the airport.

“How ‘bout we have a light breakfast at that little café,” Matt said. “I need a few minutes to make a couple of phone calls anyway before we take off.”

The three of us nodded our assent. I wasn’t that hungry, but was sure in the mood for some strong, hot coffee.

“You packing, Johnny?” Matt asked.

“Sure, Matt.”

“Got your PI license and carry permit on you?”

“Affirmative.”

“Maggie?”

“No,” she answered. “I’m as harmless as a new-born babe.”

“Doubt that,” Matt grinned. “We’ll be good then just in case anyone asks. Linh’s got her badge to go along with her piece. Chances are, the question won’t come up anyhow, but you never know with airport security.”

“How ‘bout you, Matt? You ever carry anymore?” I asked.

“Naw. Anybody I want to do away with these days, I simply invite them for a plane ride and push them out the side door. By the way, Johnny, you’re up front with me this trip.”

“Right by the side door,” I observed.

“Right,” he replied with a smile.

Arriving at the airport a few minutes later, I paid off the cabbie and we made our way into the Skyway café. Nice décor. Airplane motifs everywhere, up to and including little plastic models dangling from the ceiling by strings. The menu was surprising simple—mostly egg dishes and/or pancakes, and the well photographed entrees were sparking my appetite. I was immediately drawn to one item called simply—the Skyway’s signature dish—the garbage skillet.

Not one to pass up a chance for a new dining experience, I ordered it. The others followed suit. As it turned out, it wasn’t a bad dish, combining several different types of meats, eggs, potatoes, and veggies. Filled the hole nicely, and tasted good to boot.

By the time we reached the airplane, the sky was fully bright. As he had specified, I was in the “co-pilot” seat next to Matt, and the ladies were in the rear, looking for all the world like conjoined twins as they squeezed into the tight space. After completing his checklist and radioing the tower for takeoff clearance, he started the engine and we taxied down the runway. I double-checked the passenger door to make sure it was solidly shut, and cinched my seatbelt as tight as it would go. Matt applied full-power and we lifted off the ground with little effort.

The engine was plenty noisy, but we were all easily able to talk to each other through our headsets and microphones. I remarked to Matt how quickly we had lifted off—quite a bit different from the commercial jets that I was much more experienced with. Many of them seemed to use the entire runway. He explained that the tiny aircraft itself only weighted about sixteen hundred pounds, without fuel or passengers. He was able to pull it out of the hanger or push it in by himself, along with the use of a simple handheld metal hook/come along.

 

 

It was a cool looking little plane. White, with blue and grey “racing” strips, and a blue hood, or bonnet, as the brits call it. We climbed quickly to thirty-five hundred feet, and then more slowly to forty-five where we would cruise to our destination. I was amazed at how easily Matt multi-tasked, speaking easily with several ATC, or air traffic control jurisdictions, seemingly all at one time, while maintaining control of the aircraft and flipping switches and twirling dials. He was, as always, impressive—and I was—impressed, that is.

About twenty minutes into our flight, Matt suddenly let go of the controls and calmly looked over at me. “Take over, pal—it’s all yours.”

“Say what?” was my witty reply.

“The plane, Johnny. Fly the plane. It’s all yours.”

“Are you out of your flippin’ mind?” I almost screamed at him. “You’re the pilot, not me! You fly the thing.”

“Don’t worry,” he replied. “I won’t let you do anything stupid.”

“I’m not about to do anything stupid,” I yelled again. “Beginning with not touching any of these controls.”

He chuckled. “You sure, Johnny? It’s lots of fun.”

“Fun my butt.”

“Okay,” he said. Reaching across the control panel, he flipped off the control clearly labeled “auto-pilot.”

“That was on all the time, wasn’t it?”

“Sure, it was, Johnny. I said I wouldn’t let you do anything dangerous.”

“Very funny,” I said, with just a small trace of irritation in my voice.

“Thanks. I really love pulling that one. It’s a laugh almost every time.”

Matt and I flew on in silence for several more minutes, listening to the ladies quietly chatting about the scenery passing by underneath us. Finally, he broke the silence. “Johnny—I know you probably better than any other man on Earth, and I know you don’t have a fearful bone in your body. And, I know that if something were to happen to me right now, you’d take over the controls and do your best to land this thing. And with your Irish luck, you’d probably pull it off too. So, what’s really going on?”

I thought it over for a long half-minute, and then answered honestly. “I planned to learn to fly when I young. I wanted to go to Alaska and be a bush pilot. They were a big deal at the time.”

“What happened to the dream, Johnny?”

“Life happened—that’s what. Life did what life does and got in the way. Dad took off, I went to work, trying to fill his shoes. Then off to college, trying to be a better man than he was. Life got in the way. That’s what happened, Matt. Life just got in the way.”

Matt flew on in silence.

“When I was just a little kid, Matt, I guess I was just about like any other kid in America. I wanted to drive a car too—just like dad. So, just like a lot of other fathers, he went out and bought a little steering wheel that attached to the dashboard on the passenger side of the car, allowing the kid to have the illusion of driving the car. But I never had the slightest interest in taking hold of it and using it. Not even once, much to dad’s irritation.”

“Why’s that?” Matt asked.

“Because I knew I wasn’t really driving the car, Matt. That’s why. And today—just now, well, let’s just say”—I choked slightly on my words—“I knew I wouldn’t really be flying the plane either.”

Matt looked at me wordlessly for a few seconds, and then softly replied with a slight nod. “Understood, Johnny—understood.”

The rest of the flight to Nevada was uneventful. Soon, Matt nudged me and pointed out our destination a few miles ahead. It was big. Even at that distance, I could easily make out the massive house and long landing strip behind it. No gravel here. Every inch of it was well paved and maintained. As we neared, I could see the plane parked just off the end of it.

“Looks like we’re in luck, Johnny. Want to sneak in, or give him a little aerial knock on the door?”

I grinned. “Oh, what the hell, Matt, we didn’t come all this way to not have a little fun—go ahead and ring the doorbell too. This isn’t gonna cost you your license, is it?”

“Nope,” he replied. “What the FAA don’t know ain’t gonna hurt us.”

With a smile he pressed forward on the stick, putting the little plane into a sharp descent. This grand entrance was looking to be a lot more fun than I would have anticipated.

I had told him to ring the doorbell all right, but I didn’t mean to do it with our fingertips—although that’s what it looked like he was trying for. Matt brought the plane in low and fast—threatening to knock the chimney off the roof. Throttling up, and pulling up at the last couple of seconds, the plane screamed like a banshee as it passed over the roof.

So much for not alerting the security guys.

“They teach you that in flight-school?” I asked.

“Nope,” he replied. “I learned that one all by myself.”

“Do it much?”

“Not really—this was the first time.”

Matt banked the aircraft around and expertly brought it in for a smooth landing. Looked like he’d done it a million times. A short taxi to the end of the runway brought us up next to Holman’s twin-prop. Matt parked the Cessna about thirty feet to the side of it, and turned off the engine.

Already I could hear the shouts of several men as they approached us. Opening the door and hopping out, I prepared to meet them. Still about fifty or so yards off, I had a little time to size up our welcoming committee.

The tall and razor thin man in the front would be Hollywood Hank—no doubt about that. Flanking him on either side were two uniformed security guards. And trotting along behind by several paces was some sort of creature that I didn’t have an idea in the world about. Shorter by a foot than Homan, and slightly bent over, he tried to keep up with what looked like short mincing steps. I wondered if he was clamping a pool-ball in his butt cheeks. I was reminded of the way David Suchet moved in his Hercule Poirot role..

Interesting looking guy, to say the very least.

Maggie, Linh, and Matt joined me alongside the plane as the little group finally reached us. Matt was dressed in a tee shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes. I was wearing a suit and tie, and sporting a hat—making us quite a contrast, I supposed. The ladies were dressed to the nines, same as always. There was no way to make either of them look bad. Holman was red in the face—from both the surprise and the long walk, I supposed. He stopped directly in front of me. They always do. They just always do.

“Who the hell are you?” he bellowed.

I tipped my homburg back on my head several inches and stuck my hands in my pockets as nonchalantly as possible, trying my best to look cocky.

“O’Brien,” I said. “Johnny O’Brien—at your service.”

Holman’s jaw dropped open about a foot.

It was shaping up to be an interesting day.

 

 

Thanks for reading.  See you again in a couple of days.

 

INNOCENCE by Lee Capp . . . Chapter Three

 

 

     Tinsel-town wasn’t all that tinselly when we arrived. It was smogged in, instead. The EPA had done a wonderful job in recent decades of cleaning up the air quality of Southern California, but every once in a while, when the high and low-pressure systems were just so, LA could still experience a real “hard to breath” type day. This day was one of those.

The dead and heavy air was not helped much by the heat of the afternoon.

The limo had arrived in all its glory, but even that seemed dreary at the moment. The driver didn’t seem in a mood to chat, although I tried several times. A faint smile played on Mag’s lips. She was nearly always amused when one of my “adoring” public found me somewhat less than so.

We slogged our way into town from the airport in silence.

Part of the problem was me—and I knew it. Since the most unnerving telephone call the morning before, and the short visit that followed it, my own mood had been in the crapper. I was hoping that the balance of the day was going to improve somewhat, but as they say— “You can wish in one hand and poop in the other, and get pretty much the same result either way.” And that was just about what I was expecting—more poop.

As it turned out, I didn’t end up needing to shoot someone to death at my front entrance. Even after being nearly beaten to death on that very same stoop just a few years before, I really wasn’t in the habit of answering it armed to the teeth. So, when I wrenched it open and found no one on the other side except my dear friend Matt McCabe, I felt pretty sheepish. I uncocked the little gun and stuffed it in my pocket as I silently motioned him in.

Matt entered, hands held high in mock alarm.

“Getting a little jumpy in our old age, aren’t we buddy?”

“You might too if you’d just got the call I did.”

“Tell me about it, Johnny, but hold off a minute. Linh’s out in the car finishing up a phone call. She’ll be right in.”

“Great, Matt. I’d like to have her take on it too. How you guys doing, by the way? We don’t get together these days near as much as I’d like.”

“Well, that goes both ways, Johnny, and I apologize. Linh’s been crazy busy at the department and being a mother to Albert, and I’ve been working on my own little project as well.”

“Doing what?”

“I’ll get around to that in a minute. You got a case?”

“I’ve got something, but to tell you the truth, I’m not too sure what that ‘something’ is.”

“You get any cash?”

“Yeah, kind of. A million dollars.”

“As a retainer? You joking?”

“I don’t joke about a million dollars.”

“Suppose not, knowing your cheap Irish butt.”

I was about to return an equally sharp and witty barb when Linh walked through the door. It was good to see Matt, as always. And also, as always, it was great to see Linh.

“How you doing, Johnny?” Linh pressed in close for a brief hug.

“Not bad for an old guy, Linh.”

“Anything new in your life?”

“Life is great, Linh. I was just telling your husband about a case I kinda, sorta, maybe got. I’d like you to listen too.”

“You bet, Johnny—nothing I’d like better.”

“You drove all the way over here just to have me dump some problems on you?”

“We drove all the way over here to visit with our friend. Problems and cases are part of that. If all of a sudden there wasn’t any intrigue going on around you, I wouldn’t be sure it was really Johnny O’Brien.”

I laughed. “True that, Linh. Where’s little Al?”

“Spending the day with his grandmother. Maggie home?”

“Due back any minute. Why don’t you guys join me at the bar for some Shirley Temples, and we’ll wait her out. She knows about most of this, except for the last bit.”

“Sounds great, Johnny,” Matt replied. “We’re not leaving here without seeing your lady.”

With that we adjourned to my amazingly dry wet-bar while I prepared the drinks. When Mag returned about twenty minutes later, and after preparing a round for her, we got down to business. For the next hour, I went over in detail, my nightmare of a few days before, the middle of the night call from Holman’s office, and the much more recent phone call from Hell. This time I hedged nothing, telling all in complete detail.

Matt spoke up first. “Well, Johnny, I think only a fool would think there’s not a connection.

“Connection to what—and who?”

He shrugged for an answer.

“I’ll tell you what I want you to do, Johnny—and that’s to give Matt and me a call as soon as you meet with Holman. Nobody offers a million for nothing. There’s gonna be a hell of a back-story here.”

“You don’t think I’m nuts then?”

“We didn’t say that, Johnny,” Matt grinned. “We just don’t think you may be crazy this time.”

I smiled. God, how I loved these people. My friendship with both of them, I thought, along with my marriage to Maggie, would be at the very top of a personal list of things of greatest value a man could possibly ever have.

“Thanks,” is what I said.

Linh spoke up. “If need be, Johnny, Matt and I can be down to LA in a matter of hours.”

“You’ve come up with another pocket watch, Matt?”

“Not exactly, Johnny—I’ve been working on another superpower. This one of a decidedly less occult nature.”

“Tell me about it,” I prodded.

He did, spending about the next twenty minutes in doing so. To say the very least—I was more than a little surprised. I shouldn’t have been; by now I might have known, you never underestimate Matthew Mason McCabe.

The arrival of the limo at our hotel jarred me out of my reverie and returned me to the present. It felt good to be there. I figured an hour or two nap and my mood would have to improve. Follow that with an all-expensed steak and crab-leg dinner and a good night’s sleep with my honey, and I’d be ready to meet Holman at his office early in the morning. Of course, nothing was ever quite as easy as that for me.

We had barely settled in our room before there was a knock at the door. Opening it a few seconds later, I found myself facing a tall, thin, stuffy looking older man, dressed in a very fashionable gray three piece suit that probably cost considerably more than my first automobile.

I was pretty sure I knew who he was.

“Gerald?” I opened.

“Yes, Mr. O’Brien. Gerald Williams—personal assistance to Mr. Holman.”

“Nice to meet you,” I offered, extending my hand.

“And you as well, Mr. O’Brien.” He didn’t accept my hand. Instead, I got a short, and somewhat curt, brief, old-worldly bow—little more than a bob of the head really. No handshake. Oh well I thought, maybe he was a germaphobe or something. Lots of people are.

Apparently reading my mind, he apologized immediately.

“Sorry, Mr. O’Brien, I’m just recovering from a summer-time virus, and don’t want to take a chance making you sick.”

I appreciated the gesture, and was beginning to warm up to the guy. “Just Johnny to my friends, Gerald.” He smiled broadly and repeated the head bow. I turned to Maggie and introduced her. Gerald smiled graciously and did the little head bobbing thing for a third time.

“I’m afraid you may not think of me as a friend when I give you the bad news, Johnny.”

I grinned. “If you’re firing me, I’m afraid you’re too late,” I joked. “I already cashed the check.” He looked a bit nervous at that, but sallied forth.

“Hardly, Mr. O’Brien. Johnny, I mean. It’s simply that Mr. Holman isn’t going to be able to meet with you in the morning as he planned. He’s been called to his home on important personal business, and may be gone for several days. I’m very sorry, Johnny, but I’m afraid it’s unavoidable. We can fly you and Mrs. O’Brien back home to Seattle, or if you prefer, entertain you right here in Los Angeles. There are many things to see and do.”

“I’m not much of a movie buff,” I confessed. “How ‘bout if I meet with Holman at his house?”

Gerald looked mildly amused. “Mr. Holman’s ‘house’ is out of state. He does not entertain guests there under any circumstances. Few even know where it is. We are very sorry, Mr. O’Brien, but I’m afraid those are the only two choices—either return briefly to Seattle until a new meeting can be arranged, or wait here for Mr. Holman to return. I’m guessing it won’t be longer than a few days.”

I thought my limited options over for a long time—probably two or three seconds. “We’ll wait,” I said.

Maggie shot me a quizzical look, but didn’t say anything.

“Wonderful, Johnny. Capital! We’ll look forward to entertaining you and Mrs. O’Brien while you do. I would suggest a tour of the studio. There are several motion-pictures in production there at the moment. I think you both might find it very entertaining.”

I guess he forgot that I had said I wasn’t a movie buff.

“Sounds good to me, Gerald.”

“I’ll send a driver around in the morning, Johnny—say eleven o’clock?”

“Perfect, Gerald. We’ll be looking forward to it.”

With our business concluded, Gerald turned and exited the door, but not before giving us his fourth and final head-bob. I was beginning to wonder if he ever got a neck ache from all the exercise.

As soon as the door was closed, Maggie was all over me. “What’s going on, Johnny? You don’t ever let someone manipulate you like that, and I think you’d rather visit Gitmo for a little water-boarding session than hobnob with the rich and famous Hollywood elite.”

I laughed. “You got that right, love. Holman’s trying to instill a little shock and awe in us—reason for it presently unknown. We’re gonna find that out. How you feel about having a bit of fun and dropping in on old Hollywood Holman after all?”

“Where?”

“At his ‘house’—that’s where.”

“Which is where?” she prodded.

“I don’t have an idea in the world—but I know who can find out.”

“Emily Hatcher?”

“You’ve got it. We’ll call the McCabes too.”

“Why the McCabes?”

“Because I think it’s just about time we put that new found super-power of Matt’s to good use.”

Maggie grinned. That’s one of the things about Mag that I really, really loved.

She catches on to me fast.

 

 

Thanks for reading! See you again next week . . . 

 

INNOCENCE: Chapter Two

 

 

     The short flight from Seattle down to LA was going to be considerably more comfortable than I would have anticipated. No low brow commercial flight for a couple of high profile investigative geniuses like Maggie and me. We were flying private jet, provided by the extraordinarily pricy Russel Air. We were going to be picked up at the airport by chauffeur driven limo, and then straight off to our five star hotel. I had been told my money wasn’t going to be any good in tinsel town. All meals at the hotel dining room would simply be charged to Mr. Holman. Same with room service. On the road, I would carry a Holman American Express platinum card. I was also told that I didn’t need to worry about exceeding the credit limit because it didn’t have one.

I guessed from all of this that low class, potty humor movie producing must pay pretty darned well.

I’m not that much of a movie buff. A wild night for me most often consisted of falling asleep in front of the television set while watching the late news. Occasional rentals from Netflix rounded out my knowledge of electronic media entertainment, and none of them could remotely qualify as a Holman type film. I’m a written word kind of guy. A book reader—and a book writer.

I don’t like to brag (at least not too much) but I am a mystery writer of some repute. Detective yarns to be exact. All of them about just one guy, a private dick by the name of Jack McGuire. He is still, what I used to be—a falling down drunk and a first class stumble-bum. I changed. Jack never did. I couldn’t have afforded to alter him much if I had wanted to. My constant readers had paid me a royal sum over the years. Millions of dollars, truth be told.

It’s like my sainted old momma always used to say—you don’t mess with success—and apparently the fans like old Jack just the way he is.

Despite his shortcomings, Jack gets results. I like to think that I do too. I had fibbed a bit to Mag—I do have a reputation—and I know it.

I was sitting in my downstairs office and study, awaiting Maggie’s return from a short shopping excursion. I liked to use the room just to write, and my office downtown at the Pioneer building strictly for WE business. I always thought it best to keep the two enterprises completely separate, although there was a line for the agency here at home. No sense not being able to take an work call at home once in a while. Truth be told, it didn’t happen very often. The call from Holman’s secretary had been a complete surprise—especially in the middle of the night.

It surprised me now by ringing once again. Odd, I thought. Emily Hatcher, my own secretary, should have been in the office at the moment. She was as regular as clockwork, and if she wasn’t going to be coming in for the day for some reason, I knew she would have called me hours ago. If she was already on the phone with someone else during regular business hours, the second call was set-up to go to voice-mail.

Yet it hadn’t—it had come here.

I decided to take the call, more out of curiosity than any other reason. Had I just let it ring a couple more times, It would have eventually gone to voice-mail anyway. An anomality such as this is just the sort of thing that fascinates me, so I picked up the phone and cheerily gave the official, and extremely long and complicated WE introduction: “Hello.”

Silence greeted me. I tried speaking again, and once again got no response. Just a stony and total silence. I tried a third time, adding, “may I help you?” Once more—nothing. Somehow though, I knew there was a person on the other end. Listening very intently and closely while holding my own breath, I was sure I could detect the cadence of soft, regular breathing from the caller. And something else as well. In the distance, well behind the person that held the phone, as though it were coming from another room, and very softly at that, was the faint sound of music.

I tried to identify what kind of music it might be, but it was just too faint to be able to make a decent guess. Slow, melodic, and with an almost surreal, haunting quality. The image of a snake-charmer flashed into my head. It came from just one instrument I thought, rather than a band. A wind instrument, I guessed. Maybe a flute, but lower pitched—Indian perhaps. Again, the snake-charmer. Rather than hanging up, I decided to wait the mysterious call out, and just see where this most unusual telephone call might eventually go.

It went to Hell—and fast.

Many times a human being in extreme distress will scream, and I’m here to tell you that they are not always women either. I’ve generated a few in my own time. It’s a normal human reaction. Generally speaking though, the screamer, whether in physical pain or just shocked or surprised, will start out kind of slow, and kind of soft as well, the scream building both in volume and intensity as it progresses. Most times—but not by any means always. That’s the way it was now. The high-pitched scream in my ear was not only extremely loud, but instant as well. It came seemingly from nowhere, like a slap in the face, and it just about knocked my eardrum out of my head. I almost dropped the phone.

Somehow hanging on, I held the receiver away from my ear several inches as I listened to what I could only describe as a person being slowly butchered, as the undulating wails poured forth. I had the feeling that whoever held the phone on the other end had placed it near to their victim before inflicting some horrible pain. The screams went on and on, rising and falling in intensity as this macabre audio only scene played out in my ear.

Finally, after nearly a minute, it stopped, although not entirely. Even as relative quiet returned, I could still hear the soft sobs of the person that was apparently being so brutally assaulted. I had no doubt that this was real, and that it was being played out before my ears, so to speak, intentionally and on purpose. Of course, I didn’t have the faintest idea what that purpose might be. This had come from out of nowhere.

I spoke into the phone, demanding to know to whom I was speaking. Once again, only stony silence was returned. And once again, there was something else as well. I could again hear the breathing of my caller—only this time it was slightly altered. This time the breathing was louder, and it came in ragged breaths and gasps. Additionally, I could easily pick out the sound of low moaning. Part that was coming from the individual that had screamed so horribly. And part of the moaning sound was coming from the caller. I knew the sound. It was sexual in nature. The caller was getting off.

I spoke again. “Who are you, you sick bastard? Why are you calling me? Where are you?”

I waited for an answer in vain. I waited for perhaps thirty seconds, trying to concentrate and listen for clues, as the low moans and grunts of the caller grew louder and closer together. He was very close to the inevitable conclusion.

And then the line went dead.

I spoke several more times into the phone, knowing that there would be no response. The show—whatever had been its sick purpose—was over. I debated what to do. I had no idea where the call had originated. I had no way, here at the house, to trace it. I could try the phone company, but having been down that particular dead-end road more than a few times, I held out little hope. Short of a court-order, they almost always refused to give up any useful information.

I carefully replaced the receiver onto its cradle and sat down in my office chair, trying to cut through the effects of the stress inducing call, and sharpen my focus. I knew the victim was in big trouble, but I didn’t know for a fact that a life was at stake. The call had been meant to alarm me, and to perhaps deliver a warning of some type. I just didn’t know what that warning could be about. I was between cases and had been for a while. It made no sense.

Again, I replayed in my mind what I had heard in the call. The screaming voice had been that of a female. Or had it? There was something about the tonal quality of the screamer that made me wonder. And then, the dreamscape of my recent past flashed into my head—along with heavenly Christmas music. Tapping my fingertips on the top of my desk, I mulled it around in my mind. At last I made the connection. The Christmas music I heard in my head came from a famous Viennese choir. And the screaming I heard on the phone did not come from a woman.

The sound that I had heard came from a prepubescent boy.

I held my breath as I slowly let the implications of that sink in.

I jumped visibly in my chair as my front doorbell chimed. I hadn’t realized until that moment just how deeply I had mentally gone back into the dark and foreboding water of my nightmare.

This time I didn’t forget to open the desk drawer and retrieve my revolver. I quickly checked the contents of the cylinder, snapped it shut, and cocked it. I partially concealed my arm and hand holding the gun behind my back.

Nearing the door, I could clearly make out through the frosted glass the shadow of a tall, thin man.

I jerked it open.

 

Thanks for reading! See you again soon . . . 

 

Jerry Lewis . . . the nutty humanitarian

 

 

JERRY LEWIS:  THE NUTTY HUMANITARIAN

Remembering Jerry Lewis on Labor Day, 2017

 

What is the measure of a man? And what is the worth of a soul—or a life? Mr. Lewis showed us that, and demonstrated it—in spades.

He was born either Jerome, or Joseph, Levitch—depending on what source you consult—at the Newark Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey. The date was March 16, 1926. Jerome (possibly Joseph) Levitch, or Jerry Lewis, as he became much better known, would spend a bit over 91 years on the planet, and pass in Las Vegas, Nevada, August 20, 2017, just a short couple of weeks ago.

When a person visits the gravesite of an individual, that’s pretty much all you see. The name, and the date of birth and death. Those two dates are inevitably separated by a dash, and when you stop and think about it, that little dash represents the totality of a life. That is to say, the dash is everything that happened between the birth and the death of the person lying just beneath your feet.

Not much, when you stop and think about it.

Not much at all.

One has to wonder, standing in that lonely and forlorn graveyard, just what that “dash” might have encompassed.

In the case of Mr. Lewis, it was a lot.

Jerry Lewis had one hell of a dash.

For over three-quarters of a century, Mr. Lewis kept people laughing—and he kept them in tears.

Tears of joy.

And tears of gratefulness.

Mr. Lewis was, at various times throughout his long life and career, a comedian, an actor, a singer, a producer, a director, a screenwriter, and most importantly of all . . . a world class humanitarian—perhaps one of the greatest of the entire twentieth century.

He came from good stock. Lewis’s father was Daniel Levitch (Danny Lewis) a noted vaudevillian. Mom (Rachel “Rae” Levitch) was a consummate pianist that played for a radio station.

The list of wonderful, funny, and often enchanting motion pictures starring either Lewis alone, or with partner Dean Martin is long indeed. A personal favorite of my own, is the original (and of course best) The Nutty Professor. Lewis plays a duel role in this modern and humorous updating of the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tale. Lewis literally chews the scenery as Professor Julius Kelp (Jekyll) and Buddy Love (Hyde). It never grows old. Stella Stevens is the resident pretty girl and love interest. I saw the film (first-run) back in 1963 with my late brother Dale, in a downtown Detroit movie theater. I have watched it countless and an unknown number of times since.

 

Julius Kelp

 

Buddy Love

Timeless, ageless, priceless—and it just gets better as the years roll by.

The humanitarian part of Lewis does too.

It started way back in 1946, when Lewis and then comedic partner Dean Martin began hosting Labor Day telethons to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). Those lasted until the end of Jerry’s professional association with Martin, but Lewis went on, on his own, to host telethons year-after-year-after-year, finally becoming national chairman of the organization in 1966. The telethons would grow in scope and size, and continue with Lewis until 2010, and Lewis would remain as the leader of MDA until 2011, when advancing age and ill-health would force him into retirement.

 

 

Martin and Lewis MDA Telethon 1976

It was quite a run. Jerry Lewis would raise nearly three billion dollars for the organization in his forty-five year tenure, never taking so much as a dime from the association for all of his efforts, and even contributing sizable amounts personally as the years went by.

God himself only knows how many children and families were helped and aided by MDA in all that time.

It was like Lewis himself—some class act.

Jerry never revealed his reasons for doing what he did. God only knows that now too—and only God need know. For the rest of us, it is simply enough that he did.

On this Labor-Day weekend, let’s remember Jerry Lewis—the nutty-humanitarian, and one hellofa funny guy.

Thanks for all you did, Jerry. Thanks for your inimitable style. Thanks for the zany movies, the prat-falls, the gooney faces, the weird voices, the wonderful TV shows, the late Summer Labor-Day weekends glued to the set watching all the entertainment and the MDA tote-board grow—and listening to the timpani’s as it did.

Thanks for it all, dear sir.

But most of all—thanks for the memories—and the good, good times.

Yup—one hell of a dash.

We love you.

We’ll miss you.

We’ll see you again one day.

And may God be with you and your millions of kids—and with us, ‘til we do.

 

 

Dumb joke of the day:

“The doc told me I had a dual personality. Then he lays an 82-dollar bill on me, so I give him 41 bucks and tell him to get the rest from the other guy.”

—Jerry Lewis

 

 

 

Thanks so much for reading. We’ll be back in a day or two with Chapter Two of INNOCENCE. Until then, have a wonderful Labor Day weekend. Be safe, have joy, and most of all . . . keep laughing.