Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California
Lefty’s was Lefty O’Doul’s Bar and Grill down on Geary Street. The restaurant had been named after one of the New York Giant’s most colorful and popular ballplayers and his pictures were all over the place.
One of Stetson’s favorite pastimes was baseball and he bragged how Lefty O’Doul, in 1929 had a .398 batting average, and that he had the highest average of any National League outfielder in the 20th century. Of course, Stetson picked the tourists to talk to, the regulars knew this stuff already. He just loved to hear himself talk, see the admiration in the newcomers faces, and build up a vision of his popularity among his peers.
Stetson also favored this place because he liked the atmosphere. Lefty’s brought in regular ball fans and tourists who ate heartily at the bar or at tables, surrounded by photographs of baseball celebrities. All around the room baseball memorabilia sat on tables, hung on wall, and even hung from the ceiling. This is the perfect place for my discussions with Steele. It’s crowded, and there’s enough noise and distraction to keep us from being overheard.
As for what he had to discuss with Steele, he visualized them seated at a table in the corner. It was a spot where he had the advantage of seeing who came and went, and who left with whom at the end of the night.
Stetson chuckled to himself. Oh how easy it’s been to collect tidbits for a rainy day. Just recently, these tidbits came in handy as a little leverage in one instance or another.
The owner and the staff there, Stetson knew, had a special regard for him. He knew because he had overheard ole Flo, a waitress, who had been there for more than ten years, prepping a trainee. “Watch out for that one, he’s a cop. He’s always boasting about his status on the force – he’s someone with authority, he says. Be careful around this guy, Honey. Be polite and give him good service, but don’t ever take any favors from him,” Flo warned. “He’ll want you to pay him back, double.”
He had been sitting less than ten feet away, and loved every word he heard. They like me and are afraid of me, too.
Stetson tired of reveling in his memories around the apartment until it was time to go. Looking in the hall mirror, he checked and combed his hair once more. He cut off the blaring voice of the radio announcer with a quick twist of his fingers on the small table radio. Lousy news station didn’t even have the whole story of what happened two blocks down the street. He gave a deep sigh, searched his pants pockets and brought out a roll of twenties and some ones. Plenty for dinner and drinks, he thought and smiled. Just a few extra bills earned from the tidbits he collected.
Stetson straightened his posture, took a deep breath, and admired himself in the mirror. In a few minutes I’m going to hear first hand, what happened on Bush Street today.
The two collaborators arrived at Lefty’s at the same time. They walked in together through the double swinging doors. Steele smiled at the hostess while Stetson nodded and said, “Two for dinner, please.”
“I’m thirsty. How about you, pal?” said Steele.
Stetson led the way to two empty seats at the bar and ordered, “Draw two for us, please.”
When the bartender slid two foaming mugs under the billowing skirt of the Marilyn Monroe statue, Steele grinned from ear to ear. “Boy, I’m sitting at the right spot. I can peek under her dress!” The few people around heard this and laughed along with him.
There he goes again, thought Stetson. Making himself unforgettable no matter where he goes.
Stetson slid off his bar stool, “Just a moment,” he said to Steele, and walked over to the hostess.
“Listen Sweets, it would be ideal for us to have that table in the corner tonight. We have some business to discuss. Can you make it happen?”
“Sure, I’ll keep my eye on that one for you. It may be a longer wait, though. The people there are only half way through their meal.”
“No problem,” said Stetson and he slipped a twenty in the pocket of her blouse. He turned to go back to the bar and saw that Steele had been watching him.
“Nice figure. A tasty one, she’d make,” said Steele.
“Forget it,” Stetson said with a grim look. “You don’t mess up in home territory. Those are the rules, remember?”
“Well, I can dream.”
Stetson looked around. Everyone sitting nearby was busy talking and laughing with friends. He leaned closer to Steele, “We’ll be okay. The people near us are too busy to bother with what we have to say. Give me the details. What have you accomplished today?”
Steele looked at him with a sly smile. “What haven’t I done today, buddy. A little of this, and a little of that,” he said nonchalantly. “Though I did do what you asked. Me, and some friends of mine, took care of the demo job you wanted done. We were in, and out, fifteen minutes.”
“Did anyone hear or see you?” Stetson said.
“Hardly anyone around. It seems that I was there at the right time. Big sale downtown, I heard. I had on one of my PG&E gas man outfits and told everyone at home that there was a gas leak from next door. I said, ‘We need you to leave the building and area for a while. Nothing serious. We just want to protect your health.’ And they believed me, got their coats and left!” Steele stopped to take a drink of his beer. “Everything went smoothly until I met an old lady who thought she recognized me. Asked me if I knew that heavyset girl, Jeanne.”
“What did you say?”
“I told her I didn’t know the girl, but that I was interested in meeting her. The old lady said, “I would be happy to introduce you. Jeanne has often mentioned seeing you down at the Laundromat.’”
Stetson groaned and shifted in his seat. “What did you do?”
“Well, as usual,” Steele said slowly, and cocked his head sideways, “I leave no witnesses behind. The old lady offered to bring me upstairs to Jeanne’s apartment and introduce me to the three nice girls that were close friends. I told her I had met Krista before, and she was as excited as a bird in a fountain!” Steele laughed and slapped his knees. “She spewed out information about them like I was a relative just come to visit. She asked me into Krista’s apartment, saying that she would only be a minute. She had to go inside and pick up some dog food the girl had purchased for her at the grocery store. ‘My little Sweetie Pie has run out of food,’ she said.”
“She and I were the only ones in skinny’s apartment, so I offered to carry the bag of dog food for her. When she refused and bent over to pick it up off the kitchen floor, I sliced her. Real quick.” Steele smiled at the memory.
“What else? On my way back, there were two body bags being removed,” Stetson said.
“Oh, that. Just another one of those things that we can’t control. But I took care of it.”
“What? Tell me what, you crazy …”
“Now, now. Don’t get nasty. I always cover for us. Real good, don’t I?”
“What else did you do?” asked Stetson as his eyes roved over the crowd gathering closer to them at the bar.
Steele was about to continue when the hostess came up to them. “Your table is ready now. If you will follow me, please.”
“Anywhere, Sweetie Pie,” said Steele with a leering grin.
The hostess caught the look and she turned away. Without a response, she led them through the crowd to their table in the corner.
“Curb your mind, Kid,” ordered Stetson as he drained his mug of beer. “You’re making yourself unforgettable. We want you to have a low profile. We don’t want you recognized by every chick you’ve flirted with.”
“Sorry, can’t help myself after a busy day.”
“How busy? What else happened?”
“Well, like I said. We can’t control everything. When I was about to leave, two little girls and their mother came into the doorway. I grabbed the dog food and said that I was helping to carry it for the old lady. It was all so simple, man.”
“The mom said to bring it over to her apartment, that the old lady…let me think, her name was Ham…Mrs. Hamlin. She said that Mrs. Hamlin lived with them. So I carried the bag of food into their apartment next door, and seeing that no one else was around, I took care of business there, too,” Steele said.
“You did what? Two little girls?” Stetson caught himself speaking too loud. He looked around but no one seemed to have noticed what he said.
“And their mom,” Steele added.
“Wait a minute. Why were only two bodies removed? I saw only two body bags before that area was out of sight,” said Stetson.
“I dunno. But their dog, Little Sweetie Pie, ran out of their apartment and headed for the second floor. I caught him and left him in the elevator where everyone would see he hadn’t been left out of the fun.”
“You did what? You’re out of control!” Stetson said in a tight and lowered voice. He wanted to pound the table. He wanted to pound Steele’s head.
“No, I’m not. I took care of everything. No witnesses. No problem,” said Steele confidently.
Stetson swore, but quickly put himself in check when the waitress came to take their orders. He didn’t feel like eating now, but he had more business to discuss with Steele, and knowing Steele, the killer could eat anything, under any circumstance. “Corned beef and cabbage for me, and another beer please,” he said.
“I’ll have the same,” said Steele. He smiled at the waitress and gave her a wink.
“Holy Toledo!” yelled the corner newsman, who came smashing through Lefty’s swinging doors. “Two more bodies were found in the same Bush Street building!”
Chairs screeched on the floor and fists pounded the tables. Men yelled and swore. “There’s someone among us, living in our neighborhood, that’s no damn good!” said one of the regulars Stetson recognized.
“We gotta get him ourselves. The police are no help,” said someone else.
“The killer’s too smart! None of us are safe until we do!” Grumbling and grunts of agreement spread around the room. Angry men tossed down the remains of their beer and pushed through the swinging doors. The women and children left behind sat still, and speechless.
Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California