It’s 1925 in Los Angeles, and motor patrol officer Del Randolph keeps making one mistake after another. Struggling to keep his job with the Los Angeles Police Department, Del is also lonely and heartbroken after his last lover left him.
But then he meets Ev, a gentle but cynical invert, and has his heart stolen again. Del knows he’s no great catch—he isn’t smart or particularly handsome or rich—but he’s determined to show Ev how much he loves him.
Unfortunately, his misguided attempts at winning Ev’s affections might end up destroying their relationship instead. Del joins a hapless gang of bootleggers to try to make some money but quickly winds up in trouble. Soon he’s in debt, breaking the law, and lying to Ev about all of it.
My Baby Chased the Blues Away
R.A. Thorn © 2019
All Rights Reserved
Del pointed at the double white line running down the center of the road. “See that?” he said to the motorist he had stopped. “You need to stay on the right side of those lines, Mr…?”
“Hollister. My name is Ernie Hollister. I own a bakery on Thomas Street—that’s where I’m headed now, in fact, and I’m going to be late. All I did was stray slightly—very slightly—to the side of that line.” An indignant flush covered Hollister’s cheeks as he glared at Del through the open window of his car.
Del strove to keep his tone polite, wishing Hollister would keep his voice down at the very least. “You were all the way over in the other lane, sir. And you missed that stop sign back at the last crossroads.”
Hollister spluttered. “I did no such thing, officer. More to the point, this traffic situation has gotten completely out of hand. Two years ago, we didn’t have any lines on the road. A year ago, it was a single line. Now it’s a double one. Where is this all going to end? Doesn’t the government of Los Angeles trust a grown man to drive an automobile?”
“Thousands of people die in accidents every year, sir. We need to make the roads as safe as possible.”
“I was in no danger of causing an accident. It’s four in the morning—no one else is on the road.”
“I was on the road,” Del pointed out. “And you never know when another car might appear, or a pedestrian, or a streetcar.”
“There is such a thing as being overzealous in the pursuit of duty,” Hollister said, growing more heated. “Interfering with law-abiding citizens and tagging them for no good reason—why aren’t you out catching bootleggers or raiding a speakeasy? There’s enough of them in this town to keep the whole passel of you busy.”
Del looked away from Hollister’s outraged expression, focusing on the traffic tag and trying to keep his hand steady as he wrote the information. He couldn’t afford to have citizens making complaints to Captain Gardner about him.
“I’m a traffic patrolman, sir. My job is to enforce the laws.” He handed the tag to Mr. Hollister, who snatched it from him, almost tearing the paper.
“Mark my words, officer, you will hear the full measure of my displeasure. I shall speak to your captain this afternoon.”
So much for being polite. But being rude to Hollister would only make it worse, so he said, “Yes, sir,” and waited for Hollister to drive away in a huff before returning to his motorcycle and heading back to the police station. His shift was almost over, and he still needed to write up his report.
The streets of Lincoln Heights were pretty deserted in the early hours of the morning, but there were always those like Mr. Hollister who thought obeying traffic laws was a choice rather than a requirement, and it was his duty to deal with them. But he did hope Hollister wouldn’t follow through on his threat. His appointment to the motor patrol had come about mainly through luck. Carl Hutton was supposed to get the position, but his mother had fallen ill, and Carl had taken time off to look after her. Captain Gardner promoted Del instead, elevating him from his previous duties of walking a beat and directing traffic at an intersection. Now he got to ride a motorcycle, which he loved, and his pay had been raised too. But Carl’s mother had passed away two weeks ago, and now Carl was back on the force. Any slip up on Del’s part and Carl would be there to take his place.
At the station, Del parked his motorcycle and headed inside to write his report and change out of his uniform. As he came around the corner of the building, he ran right into Tom Kirkpatrick.
“Well, if it isn’t Mr. Minus,” Kirkpatrick said, a smirk twisting his mouth. Kirkpatrick worked on the morals squad and had several years’ seniority over Del, although he was still a harness bull, not a detective.
“I told you not to call me that,” Del mumbled, avoiding Kirkpatrick’s eyes and wishing yet again he had never acquired the stupid nickname.
It had all started when Chief August Vollmer came down from the Berkeley Police Department the year before. A bunch of the reformers in town who thought the police were too cozy with the politicians at City Hall asked Vollmer to reform the department and weed out some of the corruption. Vollmer gave a big speech about how policemen should be drawn from the best of the nation’s manhood and how the department should operate on a professional basis. Officers needed to be appointed based on their qualifications, not because some commissioner owed them a favor, he’d said. Vollmer made all of the cops, Del included, take a whole bunch of intelligence tests. The Army Alpha to start with, followed by psychological tests, and even a test where you had to write an essay. Del had made it through the seventh grade, but he had never been able to write a decent essay to save his life.
Harry Mackenzie sneaked a look at everyone’s scores and told Del he’d gotten a “C-minus” on the Army Alpha. Del wasn’t sure if that was true or not—Mackenzie could be a real shit when he wanted to be—but he knew he hadn’t scored an “A” either. Luckily, Vollmer gave up when it became clear the mayor and his cronies at City Hall didn’t intend to surrender their influence over the police. Vollmer went back to his high-hat college cops that he recruited from the university in Berkeley, and the LAPD settled back into its usual rhythms of bribery and payoffs before anybody could fire Del for not having enough smarts. He thought the whole thing was bunk—he didn’t need to have gone to college to know when someone blew through a stop sign.
But Mackenzie blabbed about the scores to Kirkpatrick, and Kirkpatrick took to calling Del “Mr. Minus.” Del knew he wasn’t smart. Only last week Lieutenant Miller called him into his office to reprimand him for a number of misspellings in Del’s reports and ordered Del to improve his handwriting because he couldn’t read a “damn word of his chicken scratch.” In fact, it would be best if Del typed his reports, Miller had decided. Del had attempted the typewriter yesterday and dreaded his next encounter. It took him a good minute to type most words, as he had to hunt for every letter, plus the paper got stuck and ended up all crumpled when he finally managed to yank it free.
He was trying his best—he’d spent all winter studying traffic laws until he could recite them backward and forward in order to qualify for the motor patrol. When he got the promotion, he figured Kirkpatrick would stop with the nickname, but it appeared it was going to stick with him his whole career. He didn’t get people like Kirkpatrick, always trying to run a fellow down. Del had never done anything to him except be born a few years later. Sure, the veterans gave all the rookies in the department a hard time, and he shouldn’t give a damn what Kirkpatrick called him, but the nickname hit a sore spot.
“Don’t call you that?” Kirkpatrick laughed. “I can call you whatever I want, Randolph.”
William Brooks, another cop on the morals squad, strolled over and slapped Kirkpatrick on the shoulder. “Ah, leave the kid alone, Tommy. Let’s go write our report. The missus said she’d cook sausages this morning. Don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”
Kirkpatrick snorted, but he turned to go inside. Del would have liked to avoid their company, but he couldn’t very well hang around on the front steps, so he followed a pace or two behind. Brooks and Kirkpatrick started bickering about a bet they had going over whether Dazzy Vance would pitch a no-hitter in his next game with the Brooklyn Robins, but Sergeant Friedman, stationed at the front desk, motioned for them to be quiet.
“What the hell, Friedman?” Kirkpatrick said. “You think the bums in the drunk tank are gonna complain?”
“You know who walked in here not ten minutes ago?” Friedman replied, his voice hushed. “Dick Lucas. His car’s parked down the block.”
That silenced Kirkpatrick, and Del swallowed, looking uneasily down the hallway.
“The Gray Wolf’s enforcer, huh?” Brooks said. “Damn—does he have business with Captain Gardner?”
“I guess so. Captain’s been here all night—word is there was some trouble with the Italians.”
“Crawford wouldn’t take too kindly to any infringements on his territory, that’s for sure.”
Kirkpatrick nodded. “Yeah, those wops should know better than to try and take over any of the legging from the Gray Wolf.”
Del, still hovering behind them, experienced a sick thrill at the idea of meeting anyone connected with Charlie Crawford. Crawford, known to many as “the Gray Wolf,” controlled the vice trade in the city.
“This might be a good opportunity to introduce ourselves to Lucas,” Brooks mused. “Let him know that if he ever needs the right men for a job, we’re available.”
Del sidled off in the opposite direction from Captain Gardner’s office. Maybe Brooks would consider trying to get the attention of the Gray Wolf of Spring Street, but he sure as heck wasn’t about to risk it. Certainly not with Dick Lucas. That guy walked around the downtown police station in broad daylight with a Thompson submachine gun slung over his shoulder, bold as brass. He’d brush Del away like an irritating fly.
The typewriter went about as well as Del had expected, and the sun was rising by the time he finally left. He squinted against its brilliance as he took the streetcar home. Maybe soon the lieutenant would give him a few more day shifts. Night shifts weren’t as bad in the summer, but he still wouldn’t mind going to sleep when it was dark instead of having to block the light in his bedroom as best he could. Then there were all the daily noises of his apartment building to contend with—kids shouting, people talking and listening to the radio, water pipes clanking, and alligators barking.
He had chosen his apartment based on the attractive price, which had seemed low considering the spacious rooms, private telephone, and full electricity. Only after he’d moved in had he discovered it was near the alligator farm located across from Lincoln Park. The gators’ raspy, throaty bellows sounded day and night. There had to be hundreds of alligators there, and if a couple of them got going, it sure made a racket. At least he was on the second floor. Mrs. Howser down the street had found an alligator in her backyard one morning, and every time the rains got heavy, a couple of the gators escaped the fences around their ponds and relocated to the park to the delight of the kids and terror of their parents.
But moving seemed a lot of effort, and he could endure loud alligators in exchange for the telephone and lower rent. Even with his higher salary, the bills seemed to pile up, and he always had to send money to his father every month. Aunt Sophie might be willing to let her brother live with them, but some extra cash made it easier. His father’s bad leg meant he wasn’t able to work anymore, and he depended on Del to help.
His last lover, Lawrence, sure had hated Del’s apartment, though. Lawrence hadn’t liked a lot of things, including the green and yellow chintz armchair Del now sat in while undoing the laces on his boots and then pulling them off. Personally, Del thought the colors were a cheerful combination, and it had been on sale. But after he’d wrestled the thing up the stairs, Lawrence had made him cover it with a sheet.
“Those are appalling colors, Del,” he’d said. “What were you thinking? It’s going to give me a headache looking at it.”
“I thought you would like it,” Del had mumbled. “You were saying as how I didn’t have any comfortable chairs here, and you wanted somewhere nice to sit and listen to the radio.” At the time, he had only had the four hard-backed chairs around the kitchen table.
“I didn’t mean you should run and buy the reject from the upholsterer’s bargain bin,” Lawrence had replied.
Of course, nothing Del did was ever good enough for Lawrence. He’d ended up leaving Del for a rich stockbroker who had a fancy car and could take him on vacations in Florida.
It was the story of his life, really. No matter how hard he tried, he always came up short.