was Jewish. Stevie will manage the factory.”

“Oh,” I said as we walked in a little circle, Lombardi’s arm getting heavier on my shoulder. “And how do I-”

“You see,” Lombardi went on, pausing only to touch a shiny new slicing machine delicately, “there are maybe a couple thousand, maybe more, restaurants in LA that should be carrying my line. With my two imported salesmen from Chicago and my own men, we should be able to convince most of them to take a good supply each and every day. You agree?” I agreed.

“Good,” he went on with a wink. “Now this can run into big money-not as big as some other things I could have gone into, but this is a labor of love, you know what I mean?”

“A labor of love,” I agreed, wanting to shift his arm from my shoulder.

“But,” he said, stopping suddenly and gripping my shoulder, “there is a problem.”

“A problem,” I repeated, since repeating seemed to be getting me into the least trouble.

“A problem,” he nodded sadly. “Someone is stirring into things I don’t want stirred into, things from a long time ago that could embarrass a friend of mine, maybe cause trouble for my business. We don’t want trouble for my business, do we?”

“We do not,” I said emphatically.

Lombardi bit his lower lip and did some more nodding. I was saying the right thing. He gave me a playful punch on the shoulder.

“Good, good,” he whispered. “I knew we could get along. Now all you have to do is string a certain client of yours along for a week or two and then tell him that there’s nothing to worry about and that you advise him to do what a certain producer wants done. You know what to say.”

“I do?”

The friendly look began to fade from Lombardi’s face, and he looked at Marco and Costello.

“You do,” he said.

“I haven’t got a client,” I said. “Haven’t had one for months. I’m filling in as house dick at the …”

Lombardi’s finger had gone up to his lips and touched them, a signal I took for me to shut up.

“You know,” he said, “I was not the nicest kid on my block when I was a kid. I have a bad temper.”


“Yes,” he said with a shrug. “It’s hard to believe, but it’s true, and sometimes I get crazy ideas.” His free hand went up to his head to show me that the ideas came from there and not from a lower region. “Like I wonder what hot dogs would taste like if they were mixed with meat and bones from the right hand of a private detective. You ever wonder things like that?”

I couldn’t get any words out, but I shook my head slowly to indicate that my curiosity never went in that direction.

“Well,” Lombardi continued, “you go have a talk with Mr. Cooper …”

“Cooper?” I said.

“Cooper,” he repeated as if I were feebleminded.

“Are you sure you have the right private detective?” I tried.

“Your name is Toby Peters. Office on Hoover?”


“You’re the right one.”

“Right. I’m to talk to Cooper. Tell him there is nothing I can find. Tell him he should do what the producer wants.”

“You’ve got it,” said Lombardi, “and be sure my name and our little visit don’t come up in the conversation.”

We had marched around the big room with our conversation punctuated by thunder, rain and one loud, nervous taco burp from Marco. We were back where we started, with the guys in white on one side and Marco and Costello behind me.

“Mind telling me which Cooper?” I said.

“You are joking,” said Lombardi. “I can appreciate a sense of humor. Our friends from Chicago, they don’t have much sense of humor, and they’re going to be keeping an eye on you for a while, just to be sure you understand our deal. Here, I got a little something to remember me by.”

The other guy in white stepped forward, his hands behind his back. I tightened my stomach muscles and pursed my lips to protect my teeth from whatever he was going to hit me with. His right hand came out with a brown paper bag.

Lombardi took the bag and handed it to me. “Assortment of cold cuts. Take them. Enjoy them. And do what we agreed. Remember my crazy ideas.”

“Hot dogs,” I said.

“You got it,” he grinned, releasing my shoulder. “I hope I don’t see you again, Mr. Peters.”

What do you say to that kind of parting line? I turned, brown paper bag in my hand. Marco and Costello took their places at my side and walked me toward the door. Behind us I could hear Lombardi’s voice getting back to business, talking kosher-style bologna and expansion into the West Coast lox box market.

The rain had stopped. It was still dark, but the black clouds were drifting inland fast.

“Did you hear what he said?” Marco groaned. “He wants us to stay around here and sell salami.”

“Salami, beer,” Costello said with a shrug to show it was all the same to him, all the while prodding me into the backseat of the car. Marco got into the driver’s seat, grumbling.

“Where you want us to take you?” Costello said. His gun remained in his shoulder holster. For him, the whole thing was over. He had only a few more lines to deliver.

I told them to take me back to the Ocean Palms. This time I gave directions right away, and we were back there in twenty minutes.

As I got out, still clutching my now grease stained brown bag, Costello delivered his line. “You want to keep breathing this wet air, you do what you were told. We’re gonna keep an eye on you. Right, Marco?”

Marco neither turned nor responded. His mind was filled with images of Japanese soldiers on banzai charges down La Cienega or cracks suddenly opening in the ground on Sunset. I went into the Ocean Palms and was greeted by the manager, James R. Schwoch, a thin guy with bug eyes, nervous hands and a frequent glance over his shoulder for eavesdroppers. He wore the same brown suit and tie he had worn since I met him.

“Where have you been?” he demanded.

“I was kidnapped by the new cold cut king of Santa Monica,” I explained.

Schwoch sneered.

“Get up to 212. Someone tried to commit suicide.”

The someone was an eighteen-year-old girl from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, whose money had run out with her new boyfriend. She didn’t want any of my pastrami, but I got her to accept twenty bucks, almost a week’s pay, for a bus ticket back home. She thanked me and I told her that no one had ever really killed herself on eighteen aspirin. She said that was all she could afford. She had considered cutting her wrists or jumping out the window, but her imagination was too good. When I got her packed, I used the phone in her room to call Jack Ellis.

“How’s the leg?” I asked.

“Cast up to my ass, but I can walk,” he said. “Goddamn thing is driving me nuts. I can’t read, can’t listen to the radio. All I can do is think about how much it itches.”

“Can you come back to work?”

“I don’t know,” he said slowly. “It’d take my mind off the itching. What’s up?”

I sketched it out and told him it would only take me a few days, but if he couldn’t make it back I’d get someone else to fil in.

“No,” Ellis said. “Maybe I can get a chance to kick a few sailors with this cast.”

“That’s unpatriotic. There’s a war going on.”

“Right,” he said. “Between me and the US armed forces. I’ll get my wife to drive me down. You can take off.”

I tried to get the twenty bucks back from Schwoch but he wasn’t having any. It had been my idea to give the girl the money, not his. I told him Ellis was coming back, and he liked the idea. I wondered if he would give Ellis the

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