Read The Man With the Iron-On Badge Online

Authors: Lee Goldberg

Tags: #Mystery

The Man With the Iron-On Badge (3 page)

For the next six hours, I watched
Mannix
reruns on TVLand and here’s what I learned.

Getting shot in the arm, which happened to Joe at least three times that afternoon, is really no more painful or debilitating than pulling a muscle. A few days with your arm in a sling and you’re fine. You can also relieve the pain of a concussion by just rubbing the back of your neck and shaking your head. However, you can probably avoid a concussion altogether, if before you walk through a door you peek around the corner first; that way, no one can surprise you with a karate-chop to the back of your neck.

Picking a mobster’s henchmen out of a crowd isn’t really too hard. They are usually the grimacing, muscle-bound guys who look very uncomfortable in their turtleneck sweaters and blazers. They will also be staring at you menacingly, which is a good tip-off about their intent.

I also learned some important pointers about following people. If you’re a private eye, to follow someone driving, you just have to stay one car behind your target; and to tail him walking on the street, stroll casually ten yards back and pretend to window-shop and you’ll never be noticed. However, if you’re a private eye and someone is following one car behind you, you will spot him immediately; and if anyone is shadowing you while you’re walking on the street, you can usually see him by checking out your reflection in a store window.

It’s a good idea for a private eye to drive a sports car of some kind, especially if you want to get away from someone by driving around corners real fast, your tires screeching. Intelligent, well-educated criminals drive Cadillacs or Lincolns, psycho killers and thugs drive Chevys or pickup trucks, while just about every law enforcement officer thinks he will be inconspicuous in a stripped-down, American-made sedan with a huge radio antenna on the trunk.

If you have a female client, no matter what she says, deep down she wants to fuck you. The same goes for any other woman you meet, especially waitresses, secretaries, nurses, and strippers. Apparently, nothing is sexier to a woman than a private eye doing his job. That bit of information was especially nice to know.

Hey, I’m not some kind of cartoon character. I knew
Mannix
wasn’t the real world, that if, say, someone shot me in the arm, I’d probably piss myself and start weeping in agony, then spend the next few weeks zoned out on painkillers I couldn’t afford. But I figured any knowledge was better than nothing at all, and that I couldn’t help but pick up a few useful pointers from watching a private eye, even a fictional one, at work.

Maybe they used real private eyes as technical advisors on the show. Who knows?

By three
P.M.
I thought I was ready for bed, but it turned out I was too keyed up to sleep, even though all I’d done was watch TV and eat Cheetos all day. So I put my favorite whack-off tape, The Wild Side, into the VCR and went back to the couch.

The tape was already cued up to the scene where Anne Heche and Joan Chen have simulated, lesbo sex, but in light of Anne’s later frolicking with Ellen DeGeneres, I like to think her lust was real. Though you got to wonder if Anne had made it with Joan Chen, why she would want to rub herself against Ellen DeGeneres. Put Joan and Ellen side-by-side naked and, whether you’re a man or a woman, the choice is obvious.

Anyway, I watched the tape, jerked off, and thirty seconds later, I was ready for bed again. This time, I had no trouble falling asleep.

I dreamed I was Joe Mannix, wearing the checked blazer and all, tooling around in a Dodge Charger convertible with Joan Chen in the backseat, her shirt open to her crotch.

Even asleep, I knew it was just a dream, but I also thought that it could actually happen.

Chapter Four

T
he drive from Northridge to Camarillo takes you out the northwestern end of the San Fernando Valley, past the wealthy, four-car garage suburbs of Calabasas, Agoura, Thousand Oaks, and Westlake Village, and down the Conejo Pass into Pleasant Valley.

Around Camarillo, the number of Mercedes, Volvos, BMWs, and Range Rovers thins out and you see a lot of farm workers crammed into shitcans like mine. The area between Camarillo and Santa Barbara is filled with farms, and it takes a lot of low-paid, mostly Hispanic workers to do all the planting and picking.

The area is considered far enough from real places like LA and Santa Barbara that there are two big outlet malls for travelers who find themselves caught in middle of the two-hour journey between the two cities with no place to shop.

Above all of this, looking down on everything like the imperious Greek gods in those old Hercules movies, are the people who live in the gated communities on the graded peaks of Spanish Hills.

On the off-chance that those farm workers ever rise up in violent revolt and storm the hills, they’ve got to get past the guard in the shack first.

I like to think that the terrifying prospect of rousing me from reading a paperback is what keeps them in line.

The night before my first day as a detective went fast. The only memorable moment was the flash of breast I saw while staring at the scrambled picture of the cable porn channel on TV. That was another perk of the job I forgot to mention.

I practically ran out of the shack when Victor showed up in the morning. I didn’t want to get caught by surprise, just in case Lauren Parkus decided to meet her lover promptly at eight
A.M.

I hustled down the street to my car, which was parked beside the grassy embankment, and changed into a polo shirt and sunglasses as a disguise. As soon as I was in the car, I stripped off my uniform pants and put on jeans. Actually, that was a lot harder than it sounds, and I was really afraid Lauren Parkus would pick that moment, while my feet were up against the dashboard and I was struggling with my pants, to leave for her erotic romp.

But she didn’t.

In fact, she was taking so long to get going that I was getting mightily pissed. I was eager to begin detecting, and she was sapping my enthusiasm by not doing her part.

I sat there for two hours, my hands on the steering wheel, staring at the gate, playing out various surveillance scenarios in my mind, and I got so into it that when she finally drove out in her Range Rover, I thought it was an illusion.

I resisted the temptation to stomp on the gas pedal and instead showed my calm professionalism by easing into traffic, not that there was any. I was the only other car on the road, so I stayed way back behind her until we got down into the sprawl of shopping centers and gas stations.

The traffic was pretty heavy down there, so I hesitantly let two cars slip between us. It was a good thing she was driving such a high car, or I would have had a hard time following her.

She turned into the Encino Grande Shopping Center and parked right in front of a place called The Seattle Coffee Bean. I parked in one of the aisles so I could watch her inconspicuously. Lauren went inside and ordered something. I deduced it was coffee.

My hand was shaking as I made a notation in a notepad of her activities. All she did was buy a cup of coffee and my heart already was pounding with excitement. If this kept up, I figured I’d have a stroke when her stud finally appeared.

She sat down at a table outside and took her time sipping her coffee. It gave me a chance to really look at her for the first time.

Lauren Parkus was in her early thirties, with long, black hair and the same lean physique and tennis tan as her husband, which made sense to me. They probably worked on it together, unless she was bonking her tennis pro. I figured I’d soon find out which it was.

Her face had a sculpted beauty, as if God was concentrating very hard while he was working on her slender nose, her sharp cheekbones, the gentle curve of her chin, and her long, graceful neck.

She was clearly deep in thought over something, giving her a pensive expression that did nothing to dull the startling intensity of her eyes, which I could feel from twenty yards away.

She wore a large, loose-fitting blouse that was casually unbuttoned down to the swell of her perfect breasts. And I mean perfect, the kind of breasts you only see on women on movie posters, book covers, and comic books.

I picked up one of the disposable cameras and snapped a picture. It wasn’t for Cyril Parkus. It was for me.

Lauren was beautiful.

It took her a half an hour to finish her coffee; then she drove off across the parking lot. I was right behind her, I mean literally, as she stopped for traffic at the exit. She glanced into the rearview mirror and I ducked down, as if searching for a station on the radio.

When I looked back up, praying that she hadn’t seen my face, Lauren had already shot into traffic on Las Posas. I tried to follow, but nobody would let me in. It was bumper-to-bumper and the space between the cars and the sidewalk was too narrow for me to fit into. I watched in desperation as she sped through the intersection and on towards the freeway onramp.

If I didn’t get through the intersection before it turned red, she’d hit the freeway and I’d never catch up to her.

I swore, turned the wheel, and hit the gas, speeding with half my car on the road, the other half on the sidewalk, the underbelly of my Sentra scraping the curb and spraying sparks as I went. But Lauren didn’t see any of that; her Range Rover had already disappeared down the embankment to the freeway.

I made it through the intersection as the light turned yellow, and raced onto the freeway in time to see Lauren’s Range Rover about five cars ahead of me.

I weaved through cars until I’d cut the number of cars between us down to two, then I relaxed, settling back into my vinyl seat, noticing for the first time that my entire body was drenched with sweat.

I’d almost lost her and yet, the truth is, I loved every desperate moment.

I spent the next forty-five minutes on the freeway into Santa Barbara torturing myself, wondering if I’d screwed up and she’d done all that on purpose to lose me.

But if Lauren had, she wasn’t making it too hard for me to keep up with her.

Then a Highway Patrol car roared up behind me, tailgating me for a while and giving me something new to worry about. I convinced myself he could tell I was stalking this beautiful woman and he was just waiting for back-up before arresting me. But after a mile or two, he got off the freeway and let me go back to torturing myself over previous events.

The further north we got, the foggier and cooler it got. It’s what my mother used to call “beach weather.” She liked it misty and gray like that. I don’t know why. I suppose it’s one of the things I might have asked her, if she hadn’t walked out the door one morning when I was fourteen and decided not to come back.

That’s around the time I started reading mysteries. I began with Encyclopedia Brown, which I liked for the tough puzzles and the simmering erotic tension. I kept waiting for him to cop a feel from Sally, the prettiest girl in the fifth grade and the only kid in school who could kick the shit out of that bully Bugs Meany, but if it ever happened, I missed it.

I went from Encyclopedia to the Hardy Boys, and then at a garage sale I stumbled onto a pile of ratty, old paperbacks by Richard Prather. He wrote about Shell Scott, a detective who, like me, had a twenty-four-hour-a-day hard-on and looked like a freak. Shell was six feet tall with white hair and white eyebrows. I was gawky and covered with zits. He got laid all the time by women he called tomatoes. I masturbated a lot.

When I wasn’t reading or jerking off, I watched PI shows on TV. We had a great UHF station that showed all the old stuff, everything from “77 Sunset Strip” to “Cannon.” The PIs on The Strip, they were cool cats, even though one of the detectives was played by an actor named Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. If a guy with a name like Efrem could fool people into thinking he was cool, maybe Harvey Mapes wasn’t such a geek name after all. Private Eye Frank Cannon was an ugly fat-ass, but I admired how he got the job done anyway. I thought it’d be great if in one episode he overpowered a hitman by sitting on him, but I don’t think he ever did.

Lauren took the first off-ramp into Santa Barbara, where Kinsey Milhone lives, though she calls it Santa Teresa, which doesn’t fool anybody. I followed Lauren as she drove along the broad beach and I wondered which of the hotels she’d end up at. She had her choice of meticulously maintained, retro-style motels or one of the lush, expansive resorts. They were all pricey and only a few stories tall to maintain Santa Barbara’s friendly village ambience and ensure unobscured views of the offshore oil rigs.

I figured she’d choose a motel, because even at three hundred fifty bucks a night, there was still a certain dirty charm to a room you could drive up to.

But she surprised me by driving past the pier, and the turn into the downtown shopping district, and heading into the beach parking lot instead. She paid her two bucks and found a spot. I did the same, noting the expense, the time, and the location in my notebook and admiring my own professionalism.

Lauren got out of her car, took off her shoes, and walked out on to the sand. I stayed where I was and just watched her.

She walked down to the shore and strolled with her bare feet in the surf. I waited expectantly for the illicit rendezvous and two hours later, my bladder bursting, it still hadn’t happened.

Lauren just sat on the sand, staring at the waves. For me, looking at all that churning surf only made my predicament worse.

I kept glancing at the restrooms, trying to gauge how long it would take me to run inside, piss, and come back out, and if she could disappear in that time. I was never good at math or geometry.

I decided to take a chance.

I bolted out of the car and ran into the restroom, which was thick with flies and the fetid stench of urine. I hurried up to a urinal and pissed. It seemed to take forever. And while I was doing it, I became aware of a homeless man sitting on the floor in a corner, staring at me furiously, like I’d broken into his house and started pissing on his rug.

As I zipped up my fly, I smiled at him and actually said I was sorry. I ran out, took a deep breath of fresh air, and looked at the beach.

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