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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.

INNOCENCE by Lee Capp

 

Chapter One

 

      “Would you mind repeating that?” Maggie asked, with a fair amount of consternation on her face.

“Sure, Honey,” I deadpanned. “One million.”

“Dollars?!” she exclaimed.

“Yeah—dollars. Why the big surprise? Don’t you think I’m worth that much?”

“That’s not the point, Johnny, and you know it.”

“What then?” I enquired. I had to admit that I was kind of enjoying the exchange.

“For what, Johnny? The last few years we’ve been running the agency, you haven’t made as much as a thin dime. Matter of fact, you’ve lost money hand over fist—either solving cases for free, or paying your magnificently under-worked employees at least three or four times what they’re worth. And you know what? I don’t even care. Matter of fact, I kind of like it that way. But now you tell me someone’s come along and wants to pay you a million bucks—and miracle of miracles—you accept it!”

“So, what exactly is your point?” I said. Man, I loved getting under her skin. It was a bad habit, but one I did not seem to be able to resist.

Maggie stopped and took a long deep breath, touching her fingertips together and then drawing them apart, making the universal yoga sign with her hands for “Inner-peace.”

“Nope,” she said. “I’m not going to do it. Not today. I know what you’re up to, and for once I’m not taking the bait. You’ll tell me the whole story when you’re ready.”

The game was up. After a few years of marriage, Maggie was finally starting to get my rather “unusual” sense of humor.

“Okay, Maggie. I’ll tell. Gonna need some ice cream to go with it though,” I said, as I made my way to the fridge. Ice cream had become a sort of a thing with us. It bordered on a semi-religious experience. Maybe it wasn’t even that “semi” anymore.

A few minutes later I set a couple of expertly constructed hot fudge sundaes on the kitchen counter. Extra heavy on the whipped cream. We climbed on our respective stools and went to work on them.

“So, spill it.”

“Okay. Ever heard of Henry Holman?”

“The movie guy?”

“Yeah.”

“Sure. Hollywood Hank Holman. Triple H. Potty humor Hank. ‘B’ list kid actor of low class comedies, that aged out and turned ‘B’ list director of low class comedies. Who hasn’t heard of him?”

“Was a director. He’s graduated. Now, he’s a ‘B’ list producer of low class comedies. Well, anyway, he called me last night—or rather his secretary did.”

“Here, at the house?” Maggie asked.

“Four in the morning. He called WE, but I picked up here. I guess he was just planning on leaving a message.”

“He?”

“Yeah. Holman’s sec is a guy. Gerald something or other. Stuffy sounding guy. Almost regal in his speech.”

“And he just offered you a million dollars out of the blue?”

“Well, not right at the start. But a business call that early kind of teed me off; so, when the guy asked if I were available, I said yeah—for a million dollars. I was more than a little surprised when he said that would be acceptable.”

Maggie grinned. “Maybe you should have asked for two.”

“Maybe,” I agreed.

“So, who do you have to kill for that kind of money?”

It was my turn to grin. “Nobody. I commit all my cold-blooded murders for pure pleasure.”

“What then?”

“Dunno. Gerald whatever his name was, said if I wanted the job, I’d have to meet with Holman face to face.”

“Now that’s really regal. It’d be more like you to tell him to stuff it.”

I laughed. “Usually I would—I hate to be in danger of ever actually turning a profit, you know. But I just had to find out what this is all about. Not even big name movie producers offer that kind of money for a private-eye.”

“You’ve got a reputation.”

I laughed again. “Not a million dollars’ worth.”

“So, when do you meet with him?”

“Wednesday morning.”

“Where?”

“The office—his office. In Los Angeles.”

“You’ve hit the big time.”

“We’ve hit the big time. Everything is all expensed, and Gerald boy said there are no limits.”

“Bring me back a souvenir.”

“Pick one out yourself. We be like the dynamic duo now. A set—not to be separated.”

“I’ll pack a bag.”

“Forget the bag. I hear Rodeo Drive has lady’s shops.”

Maggie looked suspicious. “What’s really going on, Johnny? You’re the least money motivated person I’ve ever known.”

Maggie could always see right through me. I suspected her of having x-ray vision. “Just that the expense account is the real fee, and our fun. The million dollars is in the form of a check. It’s being overnighted to us now. A check with the payee left blank, just the way I asked for it. You, my beloved, get the fun of filling it in. To whatever worthwhile charity you decide to give it to.”

“Now that’s the money-bags O’Brien I know. Holman must be pretty sure you can deliver.”

“I’ll deliver. But it doesn’t really matter if I do or not. The fee stands either way. It’s spelled out precisely that way in the written agreement Gerald’s sending with the check.”

“Curiouser and curiouser.”

“That’s why we’re going all California. Don’t forget your sunglasses.”

“They have those on Rodeo Drive too?”

“I expect.”

“Can’t wait.”

“Can’t wait for you to kiss me,” I leered.

She did.

“What were you doing up at four in the morning anyhow?” Maggie asked.

“A nightmare. Couldn’t get back to sleep.”

“You don’t have nightmares.”

“You should have told me that last night.”

It was Maggie’s turn to leer. “If you’d have woken me up, I would have showed you something last night.”

“Settle down, little filly,” I grinned.

“All right, Johnny,” Maggie said, flashing a sultry smile. “We’ll be in California soon enough.”

“Now I can’t wait.”

“So, what was your nightmare about?”

I was taken back a bit with the question. For some reason I hedged, not knowing why. It was not like me to be less than honest with Maggie. “I can’t remember all the details, Mag. But it was dark. Awfully dark.”

“Subject?”

“Death—what else?”

 

 

Thanks for reading! We’ll be back in a few days with a remembrance of the late, great, Jerry Lewis, called: Jerry Lewis, the nutty-humanitarian. See you then . . . 

 

Corny Joke of the Day:

 

INNOCENCE by Lee Capp

 

 INNOCENCE .  .  .  a new Johnny O’Brien novel  by Lee  Capp                            

PROLOGUE

 

Crows.

In the days, months, and years that would follow that strange hot summer, and for all the rest of my long life, they would always be the thing that I remembered the most—the crows. Black as night they were, and numerous as stars in the darkening sky.

Odd, when I stopped and thought about it.

. . . I should have remembered the dead children.

 

I walked toward the creek. Even though I had never been to this place, I knew it would be there. I felt somehow directed to the spot. As I neared, I could hear the swift current of the water, as it worked its way between the weed and tree choked banks.

Drawing closer, I could see a break in the overgrowth of the opposite bank, and a well-worn foot trail leading into it. Beyond were thick woods of mixed pine, maple and scrub oak trees. Another smaller creek worked its way at right angles to the larger one I was facing at the moment. It emptied into the larger body of water through a short but large diameter drain pipe.

A narrow wooden foot bridge arched over the larger stream, and led directly to the path. It beckoned to me, as surely as if there had been a person standing at the entrance to the woods pointing. I knew I was supposed to cross and go that way. I knew I had to. I didn’t want to go. I was aware in the center of my heart that path would only lead to heartbreak and sorrow—but I was powerless to resist.

So, I moved forward, and out onto the bridge—listening to the ever increasing murmuring of the black birds along with the soft babble of the swift creek. A few small frogs, huddled on the bank, dived in, making a distinctive plopping sound. Looking over the side of the bridge and into the clear fast running water, I was surprised to see the shape of two small bicycles just under the surface. I  wondered if they had been tossed in on purpose, or if the two riders had each lost a wager as they played chicken on the old wooden structure. The bikes looked new. I imagined that their parents would not be happy as they came to fish them out.

“Kids,” I thought, shaking my head slightly.

The last light of late afternoon was quickly fading as twilight gathered through the trees. The sky to the east purpled toward night. The heat of the day was giving up the ghost, and a slight chill was already on the evening breeze. I knew I shouldn’t go into those sinister woods. I knew it would be dark and close in there. I knew that they contained nothing but sadness and grief, although what the source of the sadness was, I did not know.

So, I moved forward, powerless to hold back, and crossed the short bridge.

I had just entered the thicket when I heard the soft, but distinct sound of movement directly ahead—twigs breaking and branches being pushed aside as a large creature moved slowly through the heavy brush. Labored breathing—as though something heavy were being carried. A loud splash. And then more sound of brush breaking. Gradually, it grew softer, as whatever it was retreated into the distance.

The hundreds of crows perched in the surrounding trees, momentarily quiet for the drama being played out below them, erupted into a cacophony of discordant sound. The many small frogs and crickets still along the banks of the creek joined them.

Shaken out of my momentary hesitation, I pressed forward and into the overgrowth. Almost immediately the light faded as the thicket closed around me like impending doom. A rancid odor rafted from the still water pooled just to the left of the creek. It was trapped there, at the base of a steeper portion of the bank. It smelled of swamp water—dark, musky, and fetid. The enclosed water was deep. I could see an ancient tree stump poking from the top. I could also plainly see the circle pattern of the recently disturbed surface.

Something large had been thrown in.

Again, I advanced toward the pool through the ever increasing darkness. As the angle of the bank sharpened, I struggled to retain my balance. My smooth soled dress shoes slipped sideways in the loose dirt, pebbles, twigs, and debris of the forest, threatening at any moment to pitch me into the ominous water. Instinctively, my left hand flailed in the air, seeking a tree branch or other object to keep myself upright.

There was none.

Now, closer to the edge of the water, I lowered my gaze to my feet, trying to keep from slipping in. For the first time, I noticed the footprints of many shoes in the soft soil. Some large, but most a much smaller size. Straight ahead, I could just make out a shoe in the darkness. It was a small one—black nylon. An outdoor shoe. It was turned on its side. I stooped to pick it up. Placing two of my fingers inside, I could feel the still warm interior. It hadn’t been there for long.

I carried it with me as I moved forward along the bank and closer to the pool. It was only a couple more paces before I saw another discarded piece of clothing—a small pair of boy’s boxer shorts. Dark blue. The tee-shirt I discovered a few yards beyond that was white. Except for the blood stains, that was. Blotches and smears. Not a lot—but enough for me to know that the youngster who had been wearing it was probably in big trouble.

Quickening my pace to the pool, my heart beat faster as I neared. There, in the last light of day, I could see the fresh tracks of larger shoes. One, a few inches from the water’s edge. The other, partly into it. Toe forward, deeper than the heel, as the person wearing it leaned out over the edge. Someone that carried a heavy burden. The toe of the shoe looked as though it had pressed deeply into the mud. Even as I stared at it, I could observe it still filling with water.

And then I understood exactly what I was looking at. And, more importantly, I knew why I was here. Perhaps there was still time. Perhaps the small body in the dark, dank water still had some life left in it. Perhaps, I could still save him.

I plunged into the wetness. It deepened quickly, rising to my waist almost immediately. Tearing off my suitcoat, I reached into the water with both hands, frantically searching for that which I knew must surely be there. Quickly I located the child’s body, and with all my might pulled it to the surface. The face rose out of the abyss first. Porcelain white dead flesh. Sightless eyes stared blankly at me as water poured from the boy’s mouth. I quickly gathered the lifeless child into my arms. I knew with all my heart that he was gone—but still, I had to try.

Turning toward the bank, I took no more than two steps before tripping over another object under the surface of the water. I could not regain my balance, and both myself and the dead child that I carried in my arms, plunged face forward into the stinking water. I fought to regain my feet. When I did, the lifeless body of another naked child rose to the surface. Another set of dead eyes stared into my soul, imploring me for relief that I could not provide.

It was too much. I froze. Stopped, unable to move—alone once again with death. The death of children. I was too late. Once again, much too late. There was no life to be breathed into them. Nothing on earth that could save them. Nothing that could help them. Yes—God help me—I knew I could change it. And once again, I knew I couldn’t. My own personal nightmare, played out one more time before my old and tired eyes.

My own personal torment. My own personal punishment. My own personal lesson—mine, to be learned and re-learned; over and over, throughout my life. The legacy of Satan’s timepiece—the golden pocket watch from Hell. Although I possessed the life giving power of deity, I was at last, nothing at all. Nothing but an ordinary mortal, dripping swamp water and bitter tears in the dark, gripping the tiny corpses of God’s two newest angels.

I turned my face toward the sky. And there, in the pain and emptiness of my own impotent mortality, I screamed to Heaven. Long, deep, and angry.

The noise disturbed the crows. All as one, and in a giant swarm, they lifted up and out of the trees. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. The night sky was filled with their dark darting forms. The air reverberated with the call of their raspy voices. All at once, they were everywhere—screaming their throaty call, sounding almost as though the Lord of Hell himself were shouting back at me—and laughing.

Cruelly, and diabolically.

The sudden and overwhelming sound of that laughter and the melee of the crows startled me.

My body jerked violently.

And I awoke from my dream.

Maggie shifted in the bed, almost, but not quite awakened by my nightmare. She settled back into her pillow and her breathing slowed and returned to a gentle cadence. I glanced at the nightstand clock. Three in the morning. Looked like it was shaping up to be a long night. I doubted I’d be getting back to sleep anytime soon after that gut wrenching dream.

A fine mist of perspiration covered my bare skin. I arose and slipped into my boxers and tee-shirt. It was a warm night on Mercer Island, after a long and hot July summer day. I made my way down the stairs and into my home office, quietly closing the door behind me. A comfortable place to spend a little time as I tried to coax sleepiness back into my body. Failing that, I would be able to fire up the old desk-top and do a little work on the latest McGuire novel. I had decided to title it, ABOVE SUSPICION, as old Jackie-boy struggles to save a guiltless man from an impending date with a sharp needle and an ice cold stainless steel table.

So far, McGuire wasn’t coming up with a very good plan as how to go about that—so it, and I, languished. My professional agency was doing the same thing, the telephone and doorbell making the same sound as that I heard coming through the open window at the moment—crickets.

I walked to the window now and swung it wide open. A cool and gentle night breeze washed over me. Pleasant. The remains of the dream were fading. Less pleasant than the wind, was my own reflection caught in the window glass. Older eyes looked back at me now, along with a head full of white and wispy hair. I was just forty-eight. Still young by the standards of the world. The snow on my roof, along the thinning of my shingles easily added ten years to it.

A few well-meaning friends had suggested a wee bit of darkening agent. I always smiled a bit as I rejected the idea. Each and every hair, I assured them, had been well earned, and I intended to keep them all—tangible souvenirs of the hard times and narrow passageways that had produced them.

Happily, Maggie agreed with me. The time since our marriage had raced by, and every wonderful moment had etched a timeless memory in my brain as I savored and relished the passing days, and the sweet prospect of our growing old together.

We were made for each other. Our union had been forged in the almost literal fires of Hell, as we fought together the evil that was Moradi. It had made us one. Indivisible—in body, soul, spirit, and more importantly, intent. That was how we tried to live our lives. Intently, and Intentionally. It was our bond, our watchword, and our creed.

Out of respect for my new wife, I had intended to not mention, talk about, or visit the gravesite of my first wife, Janis. After all, life must go on. Maggie was having no part of that. Early on, she bought three large bouquets of flowers, and we made the pilgrimage to Sunset Hills Cemetery together. There, Maggie exhibited complete love and total respect for Jan, and made it clear that she expected me to do exactly the same. I was happy to comply with the request. Next, we made another short trip to the gravesite of her former husband, Bobby Moran, along with his father and Maggie’s father in law, Colonel Robert Moran, and did the same. It was nice closure, as they say. It made us all, family—and friends. She and I often reminisced the happy days and joyful moments of our first marriages.

Like I said—she was some class act.

I suppose I could tell you that I loved her—but I guess you’ve likely figured that out by now. I daily thanked God for the moment I had met her.

My mind flitted over the days, months, and years since the wastelands. It had been close that day. Awfully close indeed. Closing my eyes and thinking back, I could easily fancy that I could still feel the Reaper’s blade at my neck. Surprisingly though, it had never resulted in nightmares for me. I generally slept the peaceful slumber of a new born babe. Tonight, had been a surprise. I had been living with being “displaced” long enough though, to understand that the dream had meaning—either symbolic or literal. And I knew how the universe worked well enough by this stage of my life, to know that I would only have to wait a while to find out what that was.

It didn’t take long. The thought had barely formed in my mind before the phone on my desk began to ring. I jumped a little with the unexpectedness of it, at barely four in the morning. It was coming in on my professional land line. The one for WE—Watchmaker Enterprises, my Agency.

I guess I forgot to mention—my name is Johnny O’Brien, and I’m a private detective.

And murder is my specialty.

I crossed the room in three quick strides and picked up the phone.

 

 

 Thanks so much for reading. We’ll pick up in a few days with Chapter One.  Goodnight!