Authors: Tom Epperson
In the kill-or-be-killed criminal underworld of 1930s Los Angeles, “Two Gun Danny” Landon has a distinct disadvantage. According to the fellas, he used to pull all kinds of shoot-ups and shenanigans…but damned if he can’t remember a thing from before last year, when he got hit over the head with a lead pipe.
Sadistic mobster Bud Seitz — known to friends and enemies alike as “The Kind One” — seems to have big plans for him, but truthfully, Danny can’t stomach the dirty work. His aim is off, the other wiseguys laugh at him, and he’d gladly trade in the drunken parties and the endless broads for a day at the movies with his colorful and mysterious neighbor Dulwich and eleven-year-old Sophie, whose deadbeat mother delivers an endless stream of emotional and physical abuse.
But when Bud’s beautiful girlfriend Darla begs Danny to help her escape the Kind One’s dark, brutal world, Danny must confront a dangerous test of loyalty that could irrevocably change his future — and his past — forever.
“SAY,” SAID DARLA, “where’d you get that cupcake?”
“They’re on that table,” I said. “Over there.”
“I love cupcakes.”
“Want me to get you one?”
“No, honey, I’ll get it. Oops!” Somebody bumped up against her, and she sloshed some of her drink on the sleeve of my coat. She brushed at my sleeve with her hand. “Sorry, Danny.”
She was pretty plastered. She was wearing a slinky gold lamé gown with gold high heels. She had soft wavy gold hair. She was a singer that didn’t sing anymore. “His eyes?” she said, whispery, like it was a secret.
“What about them?”
“Last night I had a dream about them.”
“What did you dream?”
“That I put them out. With sewing scissors. Because I couldn’t stand them anymore. I couldn’t stand the way they looked at me.”
“Why would you have a dream like that?”
“Geez. I can’t imagine.”
I had a thought, and I started to say something, but then the thought started to slip away, it was like a helium balloon a kid was holding by a string and then he let the string go, and I watched it float away into the blue.
Darla drifted off into the crowd. The way her gown was, her back was naked nearly all the way down to her butt, and I watched her shoulder blades and her backbone moving under her skin.
We were at a party at Bud Seitz’s house. The place was packed to the gills. It was a chilly night in mid April, but the house was hot. It smelled like sweat, smoke, booze, and perfume. Everybody was talking and laughing like it was a contest to see who could talk and laugh the loudest. On the phonograph was a song that I’d never heard before:
Something strange happened to me,
Lost my heart so suddenly,
Suddenly I found myself in a dream…
The new mayor’s brother, Joe Shaw, was there. Several cops, including Jack Otay, head of the Gangster Squad. The head of the Police Commission, a short fat bald guy named Nuffer. John Hobbs, a newspaper reporter. Arnold Dublinski, Bud’s lawyer—Blinky people called him. Plenty of girls—starlets, dancers, extras, waitresses, manicurists, shopgirls, cigarette girls, hatcheck girls, switchboard girls, and half a dozen out and out whores. And some of Bud’s guys, the guys that were in the coziest with him: Teddy Bump. Tommy and Goodlooking Tommy. Nucky Williams. Nello Marlini. Dick Prettie. And me.
I finished eating my cupcake, licked some frosting off my fingers. Doc Travis moved past me, walking on his knuckles. He grinned at me and smacked his lips.
I made my way over to the bar. The bartender was a tall blond Russian named Anatoly, who was also Bud’s butler.
“Another scotch, please, Anatoly.”
Anatoly was wearing a white shirt and pants and a red velvet vest. He had two fingers missing from his right hand. I’d heard he’d been this rich count in Russia and got his fingers shot off when he was fighting in the Revolution against the Communists.
“Were you really a count?”
He shrugged. “Past is past. In America, no one cares about past. I am trying to be good American now, Danny.”
“I care about the past.” I took a solemn sip of my scotch, as though toasting the past, then somebody slapped me on the back.
It was Police Commissioner Nuffer.
“What’s the good word, Danny?”
“I can’t think of one.”
Nuffer laughed like I’d made a hell of a joke and slapped me on the back again.
His double-breasted suit was like a sausage casing that could barely contain its contents. Anatoly gave him another drink. He took a gulp of it. His face was red and sweaty, and he looked like a man with a fever.
Bud had told me last week I wasn’t acting friendly enough to his friends, so I made an effort with Nuffer.
“So how are you doing these days, Mr. Nuffer?”
“Hanging in there, my boy, hanging in there, as the condemned man said on his way to the gallows.” Nuffer’s eyes narrowed as he looked around the room. “Quite a shindig tonight. Your boss knows how to throw ’em. What do you think the odds are of my getting laid? Mm, look at that tasty-looking young lady on Lieutenant Otay’s arm. Jack! Jack! Join us!”
Jack Otay came over with a big-busted redhead in an orange dress. Nuffer was about eye-level with her chest, which seemed to suit him just fine. “Please introduce us, Jack.”
“Well, this here’s Clover, I believe,” said Otay. “Or was it Daisy?”
” said the girl. “Violet Gilbertson. Pleased to meet ya.”
“Pleased to meet
Miss Gilbertson. I’m Wendell Nuffer.”
“No kidding. My daddy’s name is Wendell.”
“And I’ll bet you’re a daddy’s girl, Miss Gilbertson.”
Violet smiled down at Nuffer; it looked like she’d used about half a tube of lipstick on her mouth. “Definitely. And you can call me Violet.”
“I hope I have a chance to call you Violet many, many more times tonight.”
“Well you never know,” she said coyly, swaying a couple inches closer to Nuffer’s flushed face, and then she looked me over. “You got a name?”
“You mean you don’t know who you’re talking to?” said Otay. A cigarette dangled out of his smirking mouth. He had a big square-jawed head that was handsome in an ugly way, or maybe vice versa. I’d heard that he was an expert in the third degree—that he had a special pair of pigskin gloves that he put on whenever he was about to work somebody over.
“This here’s Danny Landon,” continued Otay. “Two Gun Danny Landon.”
“He’s practically famous,” said Nuffer. He and Otay exchanged a look. “In certain circles.”
“Famous! Gosh, Danny,” said Violet, nearly smacking Nuffer in the face with her breasts as she swung them around toward me, “I’m sorry I didn’t know who you were. See, I ain’t lived here very long, so I don’t know who everyone is yet.”
“Where did you come here from?” asked Nuffer.
“Iowa. I was Miss Iowa Pork Queen of 1933.”
“You don’t say.”
“Yeah, when I won that I thought, Violet, your luck is finally changing, and I decided it was a good time to leave Iowa.”
“It’s probably always a good time to leave Iowa,” Otay said, and then we all heard a lot of screaming and crashing around and commotion in the next room. Everybody went rushing out to see what was up.
I saw Darla stumbling up the stairs; she was crying and her arm was bleeding and she had blood all over her gold gown. Bud Seitz and Dick Prettie were hurrying up the stairs to help her.
Nello Marlini was standing next to me and I asked him what happened. “Darla was eating a cupcake and Doc Travis tried getting it but she wouldn’t let him have it. Then he bit her on the arm and then Goodlooking Tommy started kicking the hell outa Doc and Doc ran off screaming his fucking head off.”
Bud had seen
Tarzan the Ape Man
and decided he wanted a chimp like Cheeta and that’s who Doc Travis was. He called him Doc Travis because supposedly he looked like this old bootlegger friend of his who had that name. The human Doc Travis had a cabin in the woods on Lake Arrowhead, and he disappeared completely in 1929 except for his head which was found floating in the lake.
I had spent a lot of time with Doc (the chimp). We’d sit in the sun together out by Bud’s swimming pool. He liked to comb through my hair with his fingers, I don’t know what he was looking for, fleas or lice or dandruff, and sometimes he’d find something and put it in his mouth. He seemed fascinated by my dent. I have a dent on the right side of my head. He’d gently touch it with his big black fingers, trace its route about an inch and a half up my forehead and then into my hairline where it goes under my hair about three inches and all the time he’d be making these soft cooing noises. I’d always found Doc to be affectionate, humorous, and good-natured, and never known him to bite anybody.
A tit poked me in the arm and I looked over and there was Violet. Except I got mixed up about her name and said: “Hello, Clover.”
“My name ain’t Clover damn it. So what are you famous for? How come they call you Two Gun Danny?”
But before I could answer Dick Prettie came walking back down the stairs and came over to me. “Gotta talk to you, kid,” he said, pulling me away from Violet.
“Bud wants us to take care of Doc.”
“What do you mean take care of him?”
“You know what I mean.” He saw the look on my face. “Lookit, I like the monkey too. But orders is orders.”
We started walking through the house looking for Doc. Bud had declared the party over so everybody was leaving; out front I could hear car doors slamming and engines starting up. “How’s Darla?” I said to Dick.
“They’re sending for the doctor. But she’s all right.”
“You know how strong Doc Travis is. If he’d really wanted to hurt her, he could’ve ripped her arm right outa the socket.”
Dick sighed, like he was bone-tired. “Yeah, I know.” He was wearing a brown suit and a tie with yellow flowers on it. The suit looked too big on him. Suits usually looked too big on him, since he was the skinniest guy I’ve ever seen that wasn’t dying of something. Even his moustache was just this skinny little brown line.
“I wonder why he bit Darla,” I said. “He likes Darla.”
“I heard Tommy and Goodlooking Tommy got him drunk.”
“Yeah. They was giving him bottles of beer all night. Beers and monkeys don’t mix, I guess.”
We found him in the billiard room. It had red carpet and gold walls and paintings of half-naked French women. Doc was sitting up on the pool table rolling balls around, making them bump against each other. He looked up as we walked in then went back to rolling around the balls. He acted like we weren’t even there. I think he knew he was in trouble.
We stood by the table staring at him.
“What are we supposed to do?” I said. “Take him out in the desert?” Because if we were supposed to take him out in the desert we could just let him loose or give him to somebody and Bud would never be the wiser.
“Nah. We gotta take him out in the back. Bud wants to watch.”
The seven went rolling into the twelve which bumped against the three.
“We don’t have to do this,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“You and me and Doc—we could just walk outa here, get in my car, and start driving.”
“Yeah? And which way we gonna drive?”
“Well, we go west we hit the ocean. So I figure we head east.”