PI Rayburn finds a simple tail job isn't so simple. WC:2000
A Simple Tail Job
A Dave Rayburn Mystery
he sign of a good detective is how prepared he is for eventualities. This morning I demonstrated pretty conclusively that I am still in working on my learner’s permit. It was supposed to be a straight forward tail job. Just follow this guy and report on where he goes and what he does for a couple of days. Yesterday, the client, an up-and-coming publishing house, sent over an all-business kind of guy over to set things up. He gave me two days in advance an another $20 for expenses. He, also, gave me the address and the name, Harold Perkins of the writer I was to follow. A nice, straight forward tail job. They wanted some sort of “Day in the life” of a writer.
It was all going smoothly until ole Harry decided he needed to walk in the rain. I had picked him up at his house on Warner in Los Angeles at the crack of 10 am and followed him to a cheap diner on McCarthy Vista for a late breakfast of bacon and toast. The cheap diner must be part of the way he was able to afford a new 1952 Chevy Bel Air Coupe on a writer’s salary. After breakfast, it was back to his modest home on Warner. He was in there about an hour, then off again.
He didn’t go far, just to North Hamilton. He parked and jumped out of his car and jaywalked over to the other side. I found a spot quick enough but, apparently, only eight or so of my brain cells were working so I leaped out without grabbing my umbrella to follow. I ended up near the corner of Wilshire and La Cienega, across the street from the drugstore he had to walk to, even though there was plenty of parking right in front.
I’d pressed as close to the brick wall as I could so I only got partially soaked. There were several posters plastered on the wall. Most were from last year. One was some beatnik thing called “Magical Mystery Tour”, probably not worth the $2 to see it. Harry was in the drugstore for over 15 minutes so I got a little antsy and decided to go see what he was up to. I got to the corner to cross the street when Harry steps out of the drugstore. He looks around, stares at me for a few moments.
To my right, I heard an engine gun and a car launched across the intersection from the south side on La Cienega. It was a dark blue Ford. It crossed the intersection, slid to a stop in front of the drugstore. I heard two shots and the car took off again.
Harry was laying on the pavement. I ran across the street and knelt by his side. Before I can do anything he grunted once and died.
The door to the drugstore opened and a voice asked, “They gone? He dead?”
“Yes and yes. Call the police,” I answered without looking up.
I remembered thinking ‘Well crap, I’m going to have to return a good portion of the money to that publisher.”
I stood and entered the drugstore. I figured I might as well dry out a little while I waited for the cops. The store had a small soda fountain on one side. I took a stool and the guy to peeked out the door earlier came over.
“Cops are on their way. You know that guy?” he asked me.
“No, not really. Did you know him?”
“Naw, I only been working here a week. Don’t really know anybody yet. Used to be up in Santa Barbara.”
“You gave up Santa Barbara for LA?”
“Didn’t want to, place burned down. Owner didn’t have no insurance. This is all I could get.”
“Tough luck, kid. Any idea what the dead guy was doing in here?”
“He came in about 20 minutes ago, looked over the magazines then went in back and used the phone. When he finished he stopped by me and asked ‘Do you know anyone named Raylene Pickford?’ I told him I didn’t. He shrugged and went out front.”
“Raylene Pickford? Hmm,” I repeated. I do know someone by that name, although she isn’t in Los Angeles."
“Yeah. Like I said, I’m new here. Don’t know anybody.”
We talked about sports for another 5 or 6 minutes before LA’s finest arrived with sirens blaring. A couple of uniforms got out and milled around the body shooing away the nonexistent pedestrians. They, at least, were dressed for a rainy day. A few minutes later a plainclothes arrived, talked to the uniforms briefly, examined the body then entered the drugstore.
“You the witnesses?” he asked.
I turned and looked at him. It was Lieutenant Larry Spinyard.
“Detective Rayburn? What ...” Larry asked.
“Hello Larry, how are you?”
“What … oh, yeah, fine. I thought you were in Long Beach?”
“Client wanted a tail job in LA. Rent and all that forced me to take it. I’d have told you guys but I really didn’t expect this. Not on this job.”
He nodded and turned to the clerk.
The clerk said he didn’t see anything since he was in the back of the store when it happened.
We go over to the window to look out. A couple more uniforms show up and hold umbrellas over the body. I told Larry what I had seen.
“No license plate number?”
“Just the letter F, sorry. It was completely unexpected so I was in a little shock, I guess. You find anything on the body?”
“Not much, a small-caliber revolver and about $500 in small bills. His driver's license said the deceased was a Jerry Felton and lived in Laguna Hills.”
“That’s not … OK, something is really wrong here,” I said.
“How so, besides a dead body?”
“I was supposed to tail a guy named Harold Perkins. I followed, who I thought was Harold from his house on Warner this morning. He parked his car on Hamilton then walked her in the rain. He was in here about 20minutes then stepped out and then he got shot. I was really puzzled about who would want to shoot a writer.”
“You say his car is around the corner?”
He asked the clerk if there was a back door and then stepped out to talk to the uniforms. He came back in and we went out the back door across the alley to the back door of another store. Larry pounded on a door on the opposite side. A black kid answered, Larry flashed his badge and we passed through to the front of a tailor and shoe repair shop. From the front window, we could see Harry’s car. There was a dark blue Ford parked right behind it with two guys sitting in it. Larry used the shop’s phone to call for more back up.
It took about 20 more minutes for the cops to show up. The two guys in the Ford didn’t move that whole time. A pair of uniforms crept up to the doors of the car and opened them with their guns drawn. We left the store and jaywalked across the street when the uniforms opened the door. Both were dead. Each had a single gunshot wound to the back of the head.
Larry and I turn to the Bel Air. Larry fished the keys out of a pocket and unlocked the trunk.
“Man, I hope there isn’t another dead body in there,” I said as he opened it.
We both let out breaths we didn’t realize we were holding when it turned out there were only some papers in it. We look through the rest of the car but find nothing more. The registration checked out to Harold’s house so we return to Larry’s car and headed over to Harold’s house.
It was a two-room bungalow with a single car detached garage. Faded blue clapboard siding with an asphalt shingle roof. One of the keys Larry had opened the front door. The rooms were sparsely populated with furniture. The second room had been turned into an office. That’s where we found Harold. He was slumped over a nice oak desk that had a new IBM Executive Electric typewriter on it. I started lusting after that typewriter right away.
“You know, Larry. I think I’m going to have to take that typewriter back to my office for some analysis.”
Larry looked at me with surprise, gave a sardonic smile and said, “How about we focus on the body, smart guy.”
Harry looked to be in his 30s and in reasonable shape except for the large bullet hole in his back, between his shoulder blades. His jacket was tossed on to a small couch against one wall. Larry went to retrieve it.
“I’m no coroner, but I think he’s dead, Larry.”
“It’s that sort of humor why nobody likes you,” he said while he looked through the dead man’s wallet.
While he did that I looked in the trash bin next to the desk. It’s a cop thing and even us ex-cops do it. I pulled out a wadded up typewritten sheet. After unwadding it and reading it I involuntarily whistled.
Larry looked up and I handed him the sheet. He read then muttered a curse.
“No wonder he’s dead, those guys don’t play around,” Larry said looking at the dead man with a little more respect.
“Those papers you collected in the trunk ...” I started but trailed off.
The sheet we had detailed a prostitution ring using illegals from Mexico. Not just illegals but kids. It named a few powerful people in LA and that had both of us worried. As a Lieutenant in the police, he was going to have to deal with it. On the surface, I could just walk away because that wasn’t what I was paid to find but these guys are not going to be happy that I know anything.
‘Jerry must have looked a the manuscript and tried to squeeze more money out of whoever sent him. Seems a little over the top to kill the other two; they didn’t have a chance to even talk to Jerry,” I said quietly.
We looked at each other, each assessing the consequences of what was on that paper. The cop in me wanted to pursue this to bring justice but the cynical PI knew the chances of the actual perpetrators getting anything remotely like justice was the same as the Cubs winning the World Series.
“Hey, Lieutenant. You want us to do anything here?”
“Jesus, Joseph, Mary,” Larry blurted as both of us jumped and turned to the uniform standing in the doorway.
“Sergeant Kelley, you almost gave me a heart attack,” Larry said then after taking a breath added. “Yeah, get SID in here, bag everything.”
“Dave, Let’s check the garage,” Larry said as he stuffs the sheet into his pocket.
I follow him outside to a place where we are away from the other cops.
“Dave, there isn’t any reason you have to be involved in the next part of this. I’ll keep your name out of this as much as I can. Just forget what you read and go back to your client and ...” he said paused, sighed, cursed, then added. “This is going to be messy. I hope I can just kick it upstairs and avoid the inevitable blowback.”
I said, “I hate to agree with you but I do. I am going to go see Raylene since that guy Jerry mentioned her. I’ll see if she has anything and to send it to you if she does.”
“Thanks, Dave. I’ll get one of the guys to drop you at your car,” Larry said.
Once we were out front at a patrol car, Larry spoke to a uniform and we got in. I could hear Larry muttering, “Jesus a judge!” as he walked away.