The Homeless Ventriloquist by Jim Washburn
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Abba Dabba Dabba

While the chimpanzee slumbered, Lloyd cleared the mess off his desk’s blotter calendar and tried to make temporal sense of his life since meeting Audrey Kane. He circled Thursday, August 18 with his pen, astounded that so much upheaval had taken place in his life in the one week since Audrey had walked through his office door.

Never had he felt so physically and mentally challenged: not during his probationary period as a new police officer; not when working double shifts during the Watts riots; not when enduring the grueling hearings to oust him from the force. None of that neared the frustration he felt looking for a man he didn’t want to find, or the exhilaration he felt every second he grew closer to Audrey, or the dread he’d never felt before, now that he had something to lose; all this compounded by the word from Roy that he was a suspect in the murders he thought he was helping to solve.

Two of those had been committed before last week, one about two weeks earlier, Roy had told him. He’d never inquired when the other happened, since he had no idea it would matter. So those were off the table for now. Even if he did learn the dates and approximate times of the murders, he’d have trouble establishing an alibi for them, since he’d chiefly sat in his empty office or loitered around the beach doing nothing memorable.

So, August 18, no murder, plenty of alibi: Along with Audrey, he’d met any number of people at Musso & Frank and the Whisky, then later had a sadistic police sergeant and a drunk Indian to vouch for his whereabouts until two a.m.

Sometime on the night of Friday, the 19th, an unidentified old man had been stuffed in a trashcan of Spring Street, showing hours of torture and mutilation. Again, Lloyd didn’t know the approximate time of death. He’d talked with the Greeter that afternoon, probably not the best witness for the defense. He’d been with Audrey from about 4 until 10, when they’d first kissed. He’d exchanged words with the Greeter again coming home, but the rest of the night would have been his for unchaperoned mayhem, until about 7:30 the next morning when he’d talked on the phone with Billy Down and Ed Lafferty. He wrote all that down.

Saturday the 20th, Abraham was murdered after leaving his work around midnight, only hours after Lloyd had a shoeshine from him. Abraham seemed shaken by something, and had quit working downtown that night after three decades, saying he’d seen something no man should see. The more Lloyd thought about that, the more he thought Abraham might have witnessed the previous night’s murder, and was killed for that reason.

Lloyd had been with Cochise all that night. He wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Indian had warrants out against him, and the odds of him disappearing on Lloyd were probably as good as those that he’d head-butt the judge if called to testify. Who else could say they’d seen Lloyd that night? The addicts and whores in that hellish squatters’ building? The owner of the bar they’d torn up? The boy he’d watched cartoons with the next morning while Cochise noisily banged his floozy mom? Compared to his other two star witnesses, a seven year old in jelly-stained underpants might be his best hope.

Then there was Audrey, whom he’d soulfully banged the next two nights, the second of which saw Nolan Bentine being flayed and acid-burned to death while he and Audrey reenacted From Here to Eternity on Venice Beach. He circled Tuesday the 23rd on his calendar, taking some comfort that at least Audrey would know he wasn’t the murderer, since they’d been glued to each other all night.

Could she, would she, testify on his behalf without bringing their romance into it? Would goddamned Chick Singer pop up to nail her for perjury with his voyeur’s insights, while incidentally providing a deeper alibi for Lloyd? Doubtful, since Lloyd had worked so earnestly that morning to make No. 1 on Singer’s hate list. Plus, it doesn’t sell cars to have Home of the Peeping Tom on your banner. Moreover, Singer would be admitting being in violation of the restraining order Audrey said she had against him.

What if Lloyd was asked to account for all his time? “I was doing the frug at a rock concert.” “I was running through the brambles on LSD.” “I was vandalizing new model Chevrolets.” “I was watching a guy blow himself.” “I was playing patty-cake with a hot chimpanzee.” That pretty well accounted for things.

It could work either way that he’d been assisting the investigation via the Coroner’s Office. Why ID one of the victims for them and come up with what little MO they had on the killer, if he was the killer? But then, that sergeant had already floated the idea that Lloyd was setting this all up to frame another and emerge the hero. In either case, a besmirched ex-cop having access to the Coroner’s Office was just the sort of black eye Dr. Ted was counting on Lloyd not to give them.

Christ, what a mess, and so much of it happened without him lifting a finger. In some of the cases where he’d testified as a cop, the prosecutors had stirred maybe five percent fact into a bowl of 95 percent speculative bullshit, and got juries to eat it. Once, he and other officers had broken up a party that was nothing worse than fried chicken, sodas and kids singing “Pappa-Oom-Mow-Mow” on acoustic guitars, and by the time the prosecuting attorney was done, it was recast as a drunken, subversive near-riot demanding the immediate—i.e. baton-wielding—response it got from officers. They wouldn’t have much trouble painting Lloyd as an embittered, dirty ex-cop who’d gone around the bend.

He needed to find out more about this sergeant. Maybe he could nip this in the bud. From what he could recall working the vice sweeps under him, Lloyd was pretty sure his name was Bunk Ailes. He was entirely the sort of cop Lloyd couldn’t stand: arrogant, violent, convinced he was better than the people he was protecting. Hopefully, the guy was enough of a real cop that he’d want to see the actual killer captured.

As soon as he could be confident he wouldn’t be interrupted by the stolen chimp or its returning thief, he’d have to get on the phone and see if any of the cops still talking to him had an angle on Ailes. Maybe they had a friend in common, though Lloyd liked to think he had better friends than that. In the meantime, he’d have to watch for tails, and expect the knock on his door to come in for questioning.

Even if he wasn’t followed to Audrey’s, he’d told enough people he’d been hired to find Artie that they’d trace it back to her before long. Sooner than later, he’d have to fill her in on at least some of what was going on.

She rang on the phone just then. They talked a bit about their day. She’d looked through Artie’s papers for a while, then went to Wallich’s Music City. She was excited to hear about him finding Artie’s dummy case. It wasn’t much of a clue, but it was the only one aside from the late Abraham’s sighting of him over a week before.

The phone’s ring had roused the chimp. It slid from the chair to the floor and ambled over to climb the back of Lloyd’s red leather chair. He perched atop it and began hugging Lloyd from behind, around the neck, making it hard to breathe.

 “Lloyd, what’s wrong? You sound strained.”

He was trying to pry the choking arm off him, but the chimp decided it was a game of strength and redoubled his effort. Lloyd surrendered, Bonzo relaxed his grip and Lloyd was able to blurt, “I’ve got a monkey on my back!”

Audrey sounded genuinely taken aback. “Oh dear. That’s the last thing I would have expected of you. Are you shooting it?”

“No. I ... have ... a ... monkey ... on ... my ... back. It’s Chick Singer’s chimp, Bonzo. Here, say hello.”

He passed the receiver back to the ape, who put two-thirds of it in his mouth and began chortling. It was coated in chimp saliva when Lloyd asked for it back.

On the other end, Audrey seemed even more incredulous, and perhaps a little angry. “What, you were swinging through the treetops looking for Artie and came across Bonzo instead?”

“It’s a long story, but I suppose you’re going to have to hear it.”


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Jim Washburn has written for the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, the OC Weekly, various MSN sites and just about anybody else willing to trade a paycheck for a pulse.


Oh Yeah, I’m hooked, next installment…

2011-10-19 by Karen

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