Clean Plate Club Murder Mystery: Chapter 46

I sat in the car to regroup.  I sure could’ve used a session with Ralph and Fanny and some white boards, but I didn’t want to keep driving back and forth to Santa Teresa.  Besides, I had to be realistic; the car was basically my office.  I couldn’t imagine how my father functioned as a PI without a cell phone and internet access.  The miles he must have put on his car.  Just as I was dictating my notes from the depressing interview with the downtrodden Carla, a call came in from Jimmy with an update on downtrodden Henry.  He told me the police essentially had nothing, just barely enough for a warrant and since the car was gone, they didn’t even have enough to bring him in for questioning.  He had dropped Henry off and told him not to the police without him present, in fact not to talk to anyone – a concept that Henry found hard to believe since he kept on insisting that he hadn’t done anything.  I briefed him on my meeting with Carla, and my growing certainty of the relationship between all the principles in this case, particularly that Henry might have been keeping company with Sylvia, who was now probably keeping company with Dessa and Goddard.

“Good work, Liza,” he said.  “Did you know what my football coach used to say?  I played wide received back in high school – old number 21 was really fast then.  Anyway, his advice was a pretty good life lesson, ‘the best defense is a good offense.’  I know that the police will keep on poking around Henry unless we can produce an alternative.  That Grimes is a nice enough guy, but pretty lazy in my book, and he is probably just waiting for us to make the case for him.  By the way, he even told me that you gave him the tip on Henry’s car.  How’d that every happen?  Are you playing a dangerous game here, Liza?”

“Jimmy, this case is very complicated, I started out working for Sam Todd and that’s when I might have mentioned it to Grimes, but it was just a flyer, all I knew at that point was that Penny probably knew Henry and that he’d lied to me.  But then the case switched and I was specifically working for Simba, and it is increasingly apparent that the interests of Simba and Sam are not aligned, which is probably why Sam got his own lawyer.  Jimmy, I am down here in Cutter City, and I would really like to talk to the ex-mayor.  Do you think that he would talk with me about that raid, or is there anyone else that you can think of who would be a willing eye-witness to corroborate Carla’s version?”

“Well, the Cutter City mayor isn’t willing, since he died a couple of years ago, but I’m sure that Jonesy Elgin, the ex-mayor of Santa Teresa would be more than willing.  In fact, he is willing to talk with anyone about that, and has been talking about it for decades, about the night Sam Todd set him up.  He says that whole story about his raping one of the girls is ridiculous, based on the fact that he ended up marrying her.”

“Jimmy, how would I go about setting up an appointment with him?  Can you provide me with an entrée?  Do you know him at all?”

“Liza, no appointment needed.  You can probably find him tonight, and most nights, drinking himself silly at the Lantern.  Probably not your type of place, but that’s one of the pleasures of your job isn’t it?  Challenging your comfort zone.  Here’s another life lesson from my football choice, “Life begins when you leave your comfort zone.”  He was a great guy, but anyway I would advise getting there before it’s too late and he is totally incoherent.  He’s really a pretty pathetic guy.  He lost the mayorship over the scandal, and his used car business suffered too and then his wife died.  He doesn’t have much left in life except his hatred for Sam Todd.

I thanked Jimmy and told him that I would report back in the morning.  I couldn’t believe that it was just 5 PM; this seemed like the kind of day when the sun wouldn’t do me the simple favor of setting.  I would’ve have preferred it if it’d been too late to do anymore sleuthing, but that was rarely the case in this business.  I would love to go back to Ralph and Fanny’s and curl up in their extra bed, just like I did so many times when my father had to work nights doing surveillance.  But the timing seemed right to make one last stop at the Lantern, the same bar where Goddard had gotten beaten up by Johnny Knox just a couple of days ago.

By the time I got there it was close to 6, and the bar was filled up with men watching Sunday night football.  The seats at the bar facing the big screen TVs were taken, but down at the end there was a solitary man staring into his beer.  Based on Jimmy’s description, I felt that it was a good bet that this was Jonesy Elgin.  I figured that there were many hard drinking men in denial who seized the chance to booze it up in the guise of a football game, and then there were those who were such committed drinkers that they didn’t bother to contrive an excuse.  I pushed my way through the throng and sat down next to the man.   He was wearing a suit, but the elbows were shiny, and the shirtsleeve cuffs were frayed and gray.  In his lapel was one of those red paper poppies that you got if you donated your pocket change to some charity, but his flower was tattered and I bet that flower had been in his lapel for months.  There were two empty bowls of peanuts in front of him, and flavored salt flecks drifted down his lapels.  He looked at me with his rheumy eyes and said, “Odd place for a girl like you, alone in a bar on football night.”

“Oh I like watching football, always used to watch it with my Dad.  He taught me about screen plays, cover two, that sort of thing, but I’m a bit out of practice.  But to tell you the truth, I really came here to see you.  You’re Jonesy Elgin, aren’t you?”

Jonesy immediately sat up straight and flicked the debris and crumbs from his lapels and held out his hand, “Can’t imagine why you’d want to talk with an old sot like me, but you’re right, I’m Jonesy Elvin, former mayor of Santa Teresa, former owner of Elgin Cadillac, and currently, well what you see is what you get, or rather what you see is all there is.  Pleased to meet you.”

“Mr. Elgin, my name is Liza Blue.”

Jonesy immediately stopped me by placing one hand over mine on the table, and he placed his other hand on my lips.  His fingers smelt like a seedy combination of peanuts, beer and cigarettes.  “Please call my Jonesy, and by the way, please tell that nice father of yours who likes football that he gave his daughter a beautiful name.  Please go on.”

“Jonesy, I am a private detective and this complicated case that I am working on goes back to the raid at the Margarita Club in Cutter City many years ago.  I don’t mean to bring up a painful part of your life, but Jimmy Earle, you know that lawyer who has an office just across the boarder in Cutter City, well he told me that you wouldn’t mind telling me what happened that night.  I am looking for an eye witness account.”

“Yes that night ruined my life, and I’m willing to talk about it, only to clear my name.  At first nobody would listen to me, and then after a couple of years, nobody cared any more except for me.  But I gotta ask, why are you interested?  Bartender,” he called out loudly enough for the football audience to turn and stare at us, “Please bring me another whiskey and one for the lady here, and put it on her tab.”  He stared at me, and I turned toward the bartender and nodded agreement.

I led with trying to get justice for Penny’s death, and then carefully wove in the relationship between Penny, Johnny Knox and Sam Todd, and how they all seemed to be mixed up together.  “You’re not working for that bastard Todd are you?” said Jonesy, “If you are, there is no way I am going to help you, my mouth is zipped.”

“Jonesy, I am just trying to work for the truth,” boy that sounded corny when I said it, but it seemed to soften him up a little bit.  “Look how that night changed the course of your life, and 25 years later, it might have ended up killing a young girl who got caught in the middle.  Can you just give me a first person account?”

“Okay, okay, well the first thing that you have to know is that I was absolutely not a regular there.  Absolutely not, you have to believe me on that point.  I’ve never had to pay for it, well maybe now it might cost me to have a woman, but back in my prime, I cut a pretty dashing figure, and I never had to pay for it.  Okay, you got that?”

I nodded in agreement, and he continued, “We had a regular poker night every Friday night with the guys, mostly politicos, like the police chief and that mayor of Cutter City.  Can’t remember his name, but he was a real character and a horrible poker player, which was really the only reason that he was part of our Santa Teresa group.  What can I say, we liked having a patsy.  Anyway, that night, one of the guys, can’t remember who, but it might have been the Cutter City guy suggests that we go and play at the Margarita Club – that they had a back room set up for poker and a cigar bar.  How the hell did I know that it was a whorehouse?  So we go there and start playing poker, and pretty soon a couple of women come in and ask if they could fill in.  That was the first hint that I got that this was more than a cigar bar.  And I also realized that the Cutter City mayor must have been a regular – all those women knew his name.   Pretty soon things got out of hand, lap dances that sort of thing, and yes, a young woman was sitting on my lap when the police descended but I never put a hand on her, and I certainly didn’t rape her, in fact I married a couple of months later, so all of that rape stuff was just a load of crap.”

“Was there a man there named Johnny Knox, and maybe one of the women was named Sylvia?” I asked.

“I’m not good with names.  There was one extra guy at our table, I think that he was the house manager, his name might have been Johnny.  The girls’ names I can’t remember, except of course for my wife Grace, may she rest in peace.  Anyway, all of a sudden there is this big commotion at the door, and the police come in, and guess who escorted them in, it was that Sam Todd, and I can still see the snarky smirk on his face.  I am sure that he organized it all.  He motioned to the Cutter City guy and they talked for a few seconds and he left out the back door, completely untouched.  I had met Sam Todd a few times before, when he had some exploratory zoning meetings in Santa Teresa, and I instantly disliked him.  So then he comes over to me and says, ‘Hey Jonesy, I can make this all go away for you, or I can make it much worse, which will it be?’  WEll I was used to some horse-trading in politics, but I wasn’t going to give in to a bully like that, particularly when I hadn’t done anything wrong, and particularly since I wasn’t going to trade favors with some punk from Cutter City.  I had my standards back then.  But I was curious so I asked him what it would cost me.  And it was that zoning thing, had had his eye on some commercial property that he wanted to develop.  I turned him down, and told him that we didn’t need guys from Cutter City sniffing around Santa Teresa.  Well, okay, I’ll agree that wasn’t the smartest thing I ever said.  Todd then said, ‘go ahead if that’s the way you want it, but I tell you that you’ve chosen poorly,’ and he nodded to the policeman and they escorted me out the front door to the paddy wagon.  There were even some photographers there.  And as I was leaving I saw Todd talking to our police chief, and then he gets escorted out the back door.  So the fix was in, and my police force pretty much screwed me over, and I had to resign.  And then Todd pulled the same stunt on my Grace, coerced her into a trumped up rape charge and told otherwise she would be arrested for prostitution.  She knew that I hadn’t raped her, and I got her a good lawyer who got her out of trouble and we just fell in love.  But I still had some muscle left for that bastard.  You notice that Todd never did get the zoning he wanted on that commercial development, did he?   That was me.  There was one restaurant that held out, and we helped them get some sort of historic shit.  I got that bastard.”

“You said that people were being escorted out the back door of your room.  Was it just the guys playing poker that got off, or were there some others?  Do you remember?”

“Oh, yes, I had forgotten about that, there was quite a scene at the beginning.  The police brought in this man who was trembling and crying, and asked Todd what he wanted them to do with him.  That was when I first realized that Todd was running this whole sordid show, and when I first realized how cruel he was.

“He looked at him, and I will never forget what he called him – ‘Polly Waddle,’ what kind of horrible nick name is that?  Todd then said, ‘Fancy meeting you here.  I bet your Mummy and Daddy would be interested in your whereabouts, sneaking out at night after they tucked you in.  Now what should we do with you?’

“This poor man just about collapsed in a chair and he asked Todd in a whisper, ‘Can you help me Sam?  I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I just like to come down and chat with some of the ladies.’

“Todd then really laid it on,” said Jonesy. “He said, ‘You are the only person that I know that has to pay women to talk to them.  You should be able to get that for free, you pathetic excuse of a man.  You can go ahead and get out of here on one condition, no undermining me to your family and I never want you to see your sister again,” and then he pushed him, sobbing out the door.  I think that I heard him outside gagging and puking.  So that’s the whole sorry tale.  What do you think of me now?”

I had what I needed and I wanted to leave, but I knew that I just couldn’t walk out on him.  I motioned to the bartender to refill Jonesy’s glass.  “I think that Sam Todd is not a nice man,” and left it at that, pretending to soulfully take teeny sips of my whiskey.

“I heard that he is in trouble with his Skye Island development,” asked Jonesy hopefully.

“Well real estate has been bad for everyone for these past several years.  Everyone’s hurting.”

“Well I hope that he is hurting more than everyone else.”

“He might be,” I said, “but I hope that he doesn’t take down too many others as he falls.”  Suddenly I just had to go, I’d had too many days trying to manage grievous grudges.  I just didn’t need another.  “Thanks for your time, Jonesy.  This has been very helpful.”  As I turned to shake his hand, I saw that he had lost interest in me and was staring vacantly at the football game.

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