Authors: Charles Alverson
Goodey’s Last Stand
1975, 2013 by Charles Alverson
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Charles Alverson/Tinderboxed Press
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
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Last Stand/ Charles Alverson. -- 1st ed.
I stiff-armed my way through a darkened side exit of San Francisco General Hospital. Outside, the post-midnight sky was rare. It was a night to bring joy to the hearts of lovers, astronomers, and insomniacs, but all I could see was a narrow strip in front of me down the pocked concrete steps where I was supposed to put my feet. Behind me in a private room a nearly dead bank vice president lay draining pus and keeping his own counsel despite my forty-three hours of sleepless investigation. Ahead of me was the parking lot, my car and, I hoped, a large chunk of unbroken sleep in my own lumpy bed.
With my eyes more closed than open, I let gravity pull me down the short flight of steps. But just as my right foot touched the bottom step, a sharp explosion like a small-caliber gunshot went off in one of the dark recesses of the big, dirty-
brick hospital. Automatically I dropped the remaining step into a crouch behind the thick concrete railpost. My .38 service revolver was in my hand.
“Hey!” I said, too tired to think of anything original. “Police. Drop it and come out slowly.”
Whoever it was didn’t say anything, but I could see him, dimly, against a black wall. And then the glint of a high parking-lot light bounced off something brightly metallic moving about where his hands had to be.
I pulled the trigger just once, and an elderly night watchman with an unlit, aluminum flashlight in his hand fell to the dirty blacktop bleeding profusely. In tiny shards all around him were the remains of the light bulb he’d dropped.
“It’s no fucking
good, Joe.” Ralph Lehman, the chief of detectives and my boss, a great tackle of a man ground down by nearly thirty years of nit-picking detail, looked across his desk at me. His big, football-shaped head with its sparse hair rested at an acute angle on the back of a massive leather chair.
“I know,” I said. I still hadn’t been to bed, although it was now late morning, and I felt like a bagful of carpet fuzz. “I know.” I sat across from Lehman on a rickety wooden chair, trying not to slump.
“It’s bad enough,” he went on wearily, “you’ve got to shoot a poor, defenseless Polish immigrant working nights to put his son through dental college. An old duffer who can’t even speak English, who’s hardly been off the boat fifteen minutes. Who doesn’t need the second belly button you gave him.”
I opened my mouth but couldn’t even get out another “I know.”
“That’s bad enough,” Lehman said, “but I suppose you know who that old Polack was.”
“Is,” I said. “No
was. Is. He’s still alive. Hell, he’s not even hurt very badly. He probably feels better right now than I do.”
Ralphie said. “I repeat: I suppose you know who that poor, miserable, suffering old bastard is?”
“Yes,” I sighed. “I know. Whiteside told me, Brennan told me,
Hokanson told me. Even that hot-pants secretary of yours told me as I came in here this morning. The mayor’s uncle.”
“No, his cousin. His thirteenth, twice-removed, once-canonized cousin. Distant, I will grant you, but nonetheless Sanford F.
Kolchik’s mother-loving cousin. And do you know who vouched for the old fart to come to this great land of opportunity and violence?”
Kolchik?” I hazarded a guess.
“Correct,” Lehman said. “The very same gentleman of proud Polish extraction who’s been on that telephone there no less than four times already this morning, demanding your head on a coal shovel. And that was between calls coming down from Rabbit Ears’ office. At one time I had Sanford F. and Rabbit Ears on the phone at the same time. And they both wanted the same thing.”
“Right again. And not just anybody’s.” Lehman picked up a mucous-colored file folder from the near comer of his desk top. I recognized it as a police personnel file and didn’t have to guess whose. I think I must be psychic. Especially after fifty hours without sleep.
“The full treatment, eh?” I said.
“Fuller than you think, Joe-boy,” Lehman said. “
Hizzoner wants you hit with the overloaded boat: attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, malicious wounding, drunk on duty, lurking with intent to mope and maybe even dirty pocket handkerchief.”
“Is that all?”
“Probably not. He and his high-ranking brother are together right now trying to figure out some way to get you crucified with dull and rusty nails.”
“What have they got against me?” I asked. “All right, I used to bump heads' with The Brother when he was still human. But I hardly know Sanford F.”
“What did you have against their cousin?”
“I get your point. But what’s the upshot of all this? I see you’ve got my personnel jacket there. I’m not up for promotion, am I?”
“Not exactly, Joe,” Ralph said. “I get the feeling that you don’t appreciate the gravity of the situation. The brothers Kolchik think you’re down in the cells right now with last night’s crop of drunks. If they knew you were sitting there mocking the afflictions of their punctured relation, you wouldn’t be the only one who’s through. And I want that pension next year. I’ve earned it.”
“Through? Did you say through?”
“Through,” he said with depressing finality as he opened the long folder.
thuh-roo.” Lehman riffled through the loose papers like a gambler trying to plant the ace of diamonds. He looked up at me. “You know, Joe,” he said, “you’re not exactly Mr. SFPD.”
“What about the citations?” I countered.
He ignored my question. “It’s thirteen years now, isn’t it, Joe?”
“You’ve got the date right in front of you,” I said. “It’ll be fifteen years on October thirteenth—my birthday.”
Lehman let that pass. “This thing with Mrs. Stanfield was a real winner,” he said, singling out a modest sheaf of papers.
“Mrs. Stanfield,” I said, “is a malicious, petty, small-minded, over
weening, foul-mouthed drunk.”
“You’re right. But she’s also the wife of Superior Court Justice Moses Stanfield, a deplorably powerful man in this city.”
“That’s where I made my mistake,” I admitted.
“That’s where you made your mistake,” he agreed. “A mistake that would have gotten anybody else slammed back into uniform on the coldest beat on the piers.” He looked at me compassionately. “Joe, do you know why you were made a plainclothes detective after only three years on the force?”
“My citations,” I said proudly. “It says right there—”
Ralph cut me off with a hand like a first-baseman’s glove.
“Joe, they’re very nice citations. They’re wonderful citations. Stopping that break at the County Courthouse was the best day’s work you did in your life. But the reason—the main reason—you got yanked out of that baggy serge uniform, Joe, is that you don’t look like a policeman.”
Lehman’s eyes flicked up to see how I was taking this supreme in
sult. When it looked as though I wouldn’t crumble, he went on. “You don’t even look like a rent-a-cop. If only you knew the number of calls we used to get from citizens complaining about somebody impersonating a policeman. And it usually turned out to be you.”
“All right,” I said, “so I’m not the Nordic ideal. I never asked to pose for recruiting posters. I’ve gotten along okay for almost fifteen years. My citations...”
"Your citations,” Lehman said, taking half a dozen sheets of paper from my file. “I’m going to take your precious citations upstairs and beat Kolchik and The Brother over the head with them and pray that they don’t disintegrate. But first you’ve got to sign this.” He flipped a sheet of paper around with his forefinger and flicked it across his desk at me.
“Sign what?” I asked, bending low to catch the gliding sheet of stationery through a mist of fatigue. I read the first typed line aloud: “I, Jonah Webster
Goodey, do hereby tender my resignation as…” I looked up at Lehman.
“Sign it, Joe,” he said, almost pleading. “Use your head. It’s the only way to save yourself and maybe me too. Kolchik doesn’t want your resignation. He wants your balls. Both of them. Your only out is to sign that piece of paper and quietly disappear.”
“Disappear?” I asked. “And do what? Chief, I've been a cop since I came out of the army, since I was twenty-one lousy years old. I may not be much of a cop, but it’s all I know.” And I meant it. Even seen through my fond eyes, Joe
Goodey was not a clever, versatile man.
“Take up a new career,” said Lehman. “Thirty-five’s not old. You went to San Francisco State, didn’t you?”
“For two and a half years,” I said. “Ten years ago. At night. All I learned you could stuff inside The Brother’s ear and have room left for his brain. I’ve got maybe forty-seven credits to my name, and most of them are in anti-insomnia sessions like ‘You and Your Society.’ Ralph, I’m not an educated man. I’ll starve to death. Kolchik will see to that.”
Lehman grunted as he leaned over his broad desk and took a black plastic pen from a flat holder. He extended it toward me like a cyanide pill. “Joe,” he said mildly, “you’ve never fucked me up per
sonally, and you’re not a bad guy, so I’m going to give you an incredible break.”
“What’s that?” I asked. “An ex-copper’s funeral after they find my withered body in some fleabag down on Mission Street? Thanks.” Ralph looked at me sadly. Or maybe it was just tiredly.
“Joe,” he said, “I’m a bit hurt. I really am. We go back a long way, you and I. I mean, both on the force and outside it. I’m trying to help you.” I believed him. I didn’t want to, but I did. We did go back a long way. More than ten years before, I’d come fairly close to becoming his son-in-law until his daughter Mary got smart and married a chemical engineer. And through the years it had been Lehman who’d gotten me out of more jackpots than I liked to think about. His support had gotten me through the Stanfield incident. Maybe he was trying to help me again. I was too tired to know.
“Okay, Ralph,” I said. “You’re right. I’m an ungrateful bastard. What’s the deal?”
“Joe,” he said, “if you sign this resignation and leave San Francisco—today—for at least six months, I’ll see that you get a private operative’s license if—when—you come back. Then you can make a living anyway. There’s always work for a private op in this town.”
“A private operative?” I sneered. “I hate those bastards. If they’re not gigolos, they’re stoolies. Or both. And the best ones are crooks. I respect even political cops like
Kolchik’s brother more than a lousy private detective.”
“Joe,” said Lehman, “I hate to say this, but you look like a private dick. It’s a natural. I’m surprised I didn’t think of it before.”
“Are you going to sign?”
“What’s the alternative?”
“For sure, a departmental trial,” he said. “At least a bust to proba
tionary patrolman and more likely a total boot. Then quite likely a criminal trial, a civil suit, an award against you of several thousand dollars and a ride out of town on a splintery rail. Then there’s the dark side of the picture. If you stick around…”
“Spare me the dark side,” I said. I took the pen which Lehman had been rhythmically thrusting at me. I know when I’m licked if not much else. But just before starting to sign, I looked up at Leh
man and asked, “A private buzzer for sure?”
“For sure,” he said. “Sign.”
“Leave town for six months—today?”
“Today,” Lehman said. “What time do you have?”
“Nearly noon,” I said, peeking at the cracked crystal of my Executive Timex.
“Sign that thing and get out of the building within five minutes. Don’t worry about your locker. I’ll hold your stuff. And be across the city limits by two o’clock at the latest. After that, I can’t guarantee you a thing.”
“What about sleep?” I asked. “I’ve been up since the year one. Behind the wheel of a car I’m a menace to the public welfare.”
“You’ll sleep better out of San Francisco. Believe me.”
“My apartment,” I said. I really had a very nice apartment.
"Your balls,” said Lehman, a bit crudely, I thought.
I know when to give in, and I quickly scrawled my best go-to-hell signature and threw the paper at him.
“You’re smarter than I thought you were,” said Lehman, grabbing the resignation. He held out a big hand. “Good luck, Joe,” he said, “although I’m the one who needs it. You’ve got five minutes to clear the building.” He started toward the half-glass door.
“But, Ralph,” I said, “where will I go?” I really wanted to know. He stopped with his hand on the doorknob.
“They say that Mexico is very nice this time of year.” The door closed behind him.
“Yeah,” I said, too tired to get up, “hot as hell.”