It doesn’t say much for the new DA’s much-publicised crackdown on crime and thuggery when a fellow gets jumped by two masked thugs in the Hall of Records.
Luckily, I’d just been about to tear out a page from a volume of land records, so was keeping one ear and one eye out for the officious little weasel who ran the place and had snootily told me “this isn’t a lending library.”
(Why do they always say that? Do they think we don’t know?)
So, anyway, I caught a flash of movement down the aisle and wasn’t caught completely by surprise.
Still, it would’ve been nice to have enough warning to avoid a numbing blow to my arm. I dropped the book I was holding and they promptly trampled over it.
One of the toughs, a nasty little squirt who could’ve been the weasel beneath his mask, came at me with a cosh. The other, a big menace, had a pair of brass-knuckles and knew how to use them, giving me a good sock in the gut that was probably going to have me passing blood in the morning.
I staggered back and managed to fend off a couple of blows, but with my right arm as numb as an Irishman on St. Patrick’s Day, I knew I was in trouble.
On the positive side of the balance sheet, the pair had blown their big advantage. If one had come at me from either end of the aisle, I would’ve been done, trapped between the ceiling-high shelves. Instead, they’d come together like a couple of schoolkids partnered up on an outing, squandering their advantage and getting in each other’s way in the narrow space.
So, I was able to fall back and avoid the worst of it, until I had the chance to snatch one of the land-registry books off the shelf.
Now, when I say ‘book,’ you’re probably thinking of a large hardback novel, maybe even a good-size atlas, but you’re still thinking too small. These things are huge, the size of a coffee-table’s top and a couple of inches thick, heavy as hell.
The book made a good shield, absorbing a good few blows, and, my arm having regained some feeling, I was able to raise it up over my head and bring it down—smack!—on the little squirt’s, crumpling him to the floor with a sound like a deflating bagpipe. I hoped it was the weasel—he’d clearly sold me out.
The big guy paused, clearly not sure how to react, so I jabbed him in the gut with the book, doubling him up, then chucked it, turned and ran.
It would’ve been nice to have gotten the property details, but somebody clearly didn’t want me to and who was I to argue against such a polite request?
I headed back to my office to have a couple of shots of ‘medicine’ and ponder what I knew so far.
Big Daddy Escovar, the richest man in the city, was dead and though the police said it was an accident, his widow wasn’t convinced he’d choked on a piece of shrimp; not when he hated seafood.
She’d hired me to investigate his death, something the cops were showing no interest in, despite all the new DA’s big talk.
Big Daddy Escovar had been about to sign a deal on some property on the east side of town, where the cattle-pens used to be, back when the city was a beef hub. An area of empty lots and slum dwellings, it wasn’t worth a bean, and I’m certain the police hadn’t paid it any heed. But, a little digging told me that the interstate was coming our way and would terminate right there. Whoever owned that area was bound to make a killing when it returned to life.
Instead, it was a murder. A little more digging revealed several more deaths, all associated with the route of the planned interstate. Looking for who’d purchased the land from the estates of the deceased was why I’d been at the Hall of Records: Follow the money, as the number one maxim of the gumshoe’s creed has it.
Although I didn’t have the list, I could recall some of the names because I knew them from the obituaries column of the city paper, local low-lives whose careers had been ended in a variety of interesting ways, such as Micky Goodman, a bad boy who’d wound up in a ditch with his throat slit. It would be one hell of a coincidence if a cavalcade of folks who shared the names of dead crooks happened to be buying property shortly after their namesakes’ deaths. No, their names were being used for someone else’s seedy ambition.