The Homeless Ventriloquist by Jim Washburn
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If I Needed Someone

None of the ways down from Dodger Stadium held much promise. Audrey’s car was out. Lloyd wanted her as far from Ailes’ sights as possible. Billy Down? He’d be tied up for at least an hour clearing fans from the park, even if he didn’t have Ed Lafferty’s murder to report. And Lloyd being a prime suspect, it would be asking too much of young Billy to help him escape.

He couldn’t see being able to hitch a ride from a stranger, especially not one with teenaged daughters in the car. The exodus of 40,000 people was going to be a slog anyway. He might do better walking out.

Then he thought of the limousine in the tent behind the stage. If anyone was going to haul ass the minute the show was over, it was the Beatles. He’d seen the footage of frenzied fans tearing at their hair and clothes, swarming them like a Hindu mob in a movie.

He looked back to where Audrey and Blue had been standing, and was pleased to see that, much as she liked her Liverpudlians, she was heading for the exit at the Dodger dugout, leaving Blue staring through her lens at the stage.

Lloyd scanned the dugout area, worried that Ailes might have returned to his post there, but there was no sign of him. He did a quick 360, and couldn’t spot the beefy cop anywhere. If Ailes was smart—and Lloyd was just beginning to grasp how smart—he’d bide his time, and have nothing to do with the discovery of Ed’s body. Leave it to some grunt, and count on the weapons he’d planted there with Lloyd’s prints to do their job. Unless he was smart enough to guess that Lloyd had found them and wiped them down.

He tried to recall how many other implements Ailes had pressed into his hands that night; probably enough to go commit another murder or two, to really nail Lloyd. And he’d do it tonight, before Lloyd could be apprehended for Ed’s death.

Christ, he needed to think, away from the screams and caterwauling Beatles racket. The tent behind the stage didn’t have any guards standing near it, probably so as not to draw attention to it. He could see fans already massed in the stands above the Dodger dugout, waiting to charge the fence when their Beatles exited that way.

He crossed the few remaining yards of outfield and peeked through the flap of the tent corner nearest the stage. Inside, two men in suits, one thin, one burly, stood at the tent’s entrance, watching the back of the stage. Through the silver Continental’s tinted windows, he could barely make out a capped chauffeur behind the wheel. The engine wasn’t running yet, probably because of monoxide.

Lloyd crept in, though he could have been dropping hammers for all anyone would have heard among the amplified tumult. The two men in the entryway remained fixated on the stage. He couldn’t tell what the chauffeur was doing. Below the rear-view’s sightline, Lloyd crawled on all fours to the car’s trunk and slowly pushed its latch. It wasn’t locked. He inched it upward, just enough to roll into the trunk, and pulled the trunk lid nearly shut on top of him.

He could see nothing. The trunk smelled of rubber and gasoline. He was lying atop a tire iron, and nudged that away. Doing that, he felt a small terry cloth towel. He pushed a corner of it into the latch mechanism—he’d planned on using his jacket—so he could tug it open from inside, and pulled the lid down until it clicked.

If they went to put their instruments in the trunk, he was cooked, but Lloyd guessed the Beatles high-tailed it out of venues, leaving a crew to collect their gear and cash.

Encased in his metal box, the screaming dimmed and evened out into the constant roar of a faucet, with the dull thump of the music gurgling over it. He hoped they didn’t do encores, because the gas fumes were already starting to bug him.

Almost on cue, the music stopped, and the screaming rose to a new level. Lloyd had a brief vision of Ed Lafferty’s dismembered corpse crawling into view from beneath the stage. When the music didn’t pick up again, the engine started and Lloyd realized the screams were only for the Beatles being done. Boxed in, helpless to do anything, he felt like screaming, too, a scream so raw it would cleave Bunk Ailes’ head in two. He needed out.

The car’s doors opened, and the suspension shifted as bodies piled in. Through the seat cushion, English voices shouted to be heard over the screams. “Fuck me, was that our worst show ever?” “No, that’s tomorrow night.” “Where’s Ringo?” Then a louder voice, “Christ, Mal, where’s Ringo? We’re fucked if we don’t leave this instant.”

Silence, then, “Neil, how’s our foolproof plan going?” No answer. Another moment, then another person’s weight added.

“What kept you?”

“I was just wavin’ me towel at the fans.”

“Why? Were you surrendering?”

The limo went into gear and started rolling, an odd sensation on grass, not that Lloyd had experienced much from a car trunk before. He guessed they were headed toward one of the two far gates to either side of the outfield bleachers, ones used by the stadium’s grounds crew.

“Oh, fuck us!”

Atop the distant screams, new ones rose, distinct, immediate, surrounding the car. Suddenly, hands slapped the sidewalls. The vehicle stopped. Screams on all sides. The suspension sagging deeper, as he heard feet and knees scrabbling over the trunk and roof.

Someone pushed the trunk latch. Before Lloyd could grab the lid’s ribs to keep it from opening, it was tugged up, and three teenaged girls gaped at him, new screams brewing in their throats.

 “Hi. I’m the spare Beatle,” he explained. Then a body slid from the roof and forced the trunk closed.

More pandemonium. Screams. More bodies flinging themselves at the limo, pounding on its skin. An exclamation from inside the cab: “Look at the braces on this one. She’s going to scrape a hole through the window!”

Now cops barking orders, the driver leaning on the horn. The car in gear again. Cigarette smoke filtering in from the back seat. A sudden collision, Lloyd rolling a few inches with the impact. The car in reverse, then forward again. He guessed they were headed for the other outfield exit.

A minute of driving, then, “Everybody out! Out!” They must be changing vehicles in the parking lot somewhere, leaving Lloyd where? The engine had stopped. Would the Lincoln sit there until the stadium cleared, or would the driver take the employee road down once the mob had followed the other escape vehicle?

He waited for what seemed like 15 minutes, though it could have been five, then tugged the towel to spring the latch. He opened the trunk just far enough to peer out and find it was his own turn to say, “Fuck me.” The Continental had never left the stadium, and was parked on the grass alongside the Dodger dugout.

He pulled the trunk lid back down and stewed for a few minutes. There was no knowing now when the car would move, or, when it did, if it would stop before reaching Riverside or Barstow. Better to chance things outside.

Lloyd raised the lid again. At least on the rear side of the car, no one was standing immediately by or looking his way. He lifted the lid enough to roll out, landed in a crouch more or less on his feet, while one hand held the lid to keep it from springing up. He pushed it down until it made an audible click, and stayed low in case it caused the driver to look back.

Lloyd looked up to see a young cop standing just off to the side of the car, guarding the dugout entrance and staring at him. The kid looked barely bright enough to be Billy Down’s Scrabble partner.

Lloyd stood and flashed his all-access pass, saying, “Scotland Yard. Spot of bother,” and the youth let him pass.

From the dugout, he turned and surveyed the field. Dozens of officers were gathered around the stage. Its curtains were raised to let light in, and he could see figures with flashlights moving under the stage.

The stands had largely been cleared of fans. The ballpark organist was playing to the cops and cleanup crew. It must have been surreal for the ones under the stage, examining Ed’s tortured corpse accompanied by a chirrupy version of “In the Good Old Summertime.”

Nowhere else to go, he headed in, toward the clubhouse. More than half of the police thermoses and lunch pails that had lined the ledge were gone, including, he confirmed, Ailes’. Drink some coffee, fucker. I need an advantage, he thought.

Approaching the clubhouse, he heard voices, including Blue’s. If she’d snagged a ride out, maybe he could tag along. He stepped in, and there she stood with Big Mama Whatshername and the guy with the Fu Manchu mustache. Other record company and press types lingered near the depleted snack table.

Blue gave Lloyd a look he couldn’t interpret—anger, he imagined, at getting Audrey mixed up in something—but she took Lloyd by the arm and pulled him into the group. They’d gone quiet, listening to shouting from the inner locker room.

“Finally, we make it to nearly the only city in this shithole country where there’s a real party with real people waiting, and we’re in a basement stinking of jock straps? Get us out of here, Neil! There’s supposed to be a backup plan!” The man was nearly shrieking.

“There is, an armored truck, but your charming fans let the air out of the tires. They’re finding another.”

“I don’t care if you have us pissing around in a garbage truck. Get us some fucking way out of here!”

A slim man he’d seen in the tent earlier stepped from the locker room and the door pushed closed behind him. He strode out.

The big singer said, “Well, we’d better get going to my pad to make sure there’s still a party for them to go to. Hi, are you coming with us?” She flashed a smile at Lloyd.

“That would be great, yes, if you can drop me off anywhere near the hills.”

“My place is right near Cass’. I left Glen there listening to Mexican R&B records some guy gave him.”

“Perfect.”

They made their way out of the stadium the way he, Audrey and Blue had entered. Lloyd felt a fresh surge of helpless anger passing the gate Ed had been manning.

He wondered how far ahead of him Ailes was. He must have made Lloyd; if he hadn’t recognized him under the stage, he was sure to have taken up a vantage outside to see him emerge. But he might not know that Lloyd had also IDed him, or that he’d recognized and wiped down the hacksaw and other tools. There was scant advantage to that. Ailes already had him set up for the downtown murders; plenty of cops had seen him at the stadium, and the only question was whether Ailes was going to let the frame-up play out or take matters into his own hands. Lloyd guessed the latter.

They stopped at a white Bentley and got in, Blue and Lloyd in the back. Cass drove, and she and her friend started an animated conversation about Jim Garrison and JFK, leaving Blue to quietly ask him what the hell was going on.

“You know that rude, red-faced cop? He’s bad news. Bad enough for you to stay out of his awareness whatever happens. That’s why I asked Audrey to make herself scarce. You’ll be reading about the cop, Bunk Ailes, in the paper in the next few days, that or you’ll be reading about me. I took two pictures on your camera with the telephoto. If they came out, they might determine which way that’s going to go. If you can, get them to the LA Coroners’ office without getting your name tied up in it.”

“Wow, I didn’t know Audrey was dating James Bond.”

“I’m not even Maxwell Smart. But this Ailes guy is worse than Oddjob. Keep your and Audrey’s names out of this.”

They didn’t talk for the rest of the drive, until Blue asked Cass to stop in front of her bungalow to let Lloyd out. Blue got out, too, and gave him a silent hug. She got back in and the Bentley drove up the canyon.

Lloyd heard Mexican music spilling from the bungalow’s open front door, heedless of the hour. A drunken voice was bellowing along. Cochise was no Ed Ames. Lloyd walked down a narrow lane to the house and stepped in. It was a groovy little hippie pad, with a king-sized Indian sprawled across the living room floor. His frame was ringed in empty Pabst cans, his head was positioned beside a little phonograph’s speaker, and his mind appeared to be a thousand miles away.

“Hey.”

At the sound, Cochise reflexively sat up, clutched Lloyd’s left thigh and pulled him down on top of him. Lloyd did a pushup as Cochise squinted at him. “Oh, boss man, it’s you. Listen to some Little Joe.”

Lloyd had seen him drunker, but only the time that Cochise had been pounding him into jelly.

“Listen. Can you pull yourself together? I’m in real trouble.”

He stood. Cochise rolled over, backhanded the tonearm off the record, sat up, and pushed enough beer cans aside for them to sit cross-legged facing each other. Lloyd quickly explained all that had happened, while Cochise did a credible job of looking attentive.

When Lloyd finished, the big man only said, “Let’s get going then.” He stood, staggered a bit, then bent to reach into a rucksack on the floor. He drew out a sheathed Bowie knife, which he looped onto his rope belt. “We may have to slaughter a pig tonight.”

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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.
jim@fourstory.org

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