Aug. 7, 2022 – “The Last Time”

This is an original story of mine written in 1971.

I’m sure you’ve had the feeling of being followed before, but last night I was sure it was more than just a feeling. In my work I count on my feelings and instincts to survive at times. I hadn’t planned to stop in the city on my way to San Francisco but I had received a very short and interesting phone call before I left Chicago. I had been doing some research into organized crime back there when I traced some leads out to the bay area. And then this call came in to make matters more confusing than they already were. It seemed like a certain person that I was trying to locate was living in Los Angeles, California.

When I arrived at L.A.X. I was supposed to meet with one of my local contacts. He was to take me to this certain individual who had more information for me to close my investigation and finish my story for the paper that I worked for at the time. It didn’t quite work out as I had planned.

When I reached the meeting place I was in for quite a shock. Someone had gotten there before me and murdered my source and only hope of ending my story without having to look for another lead. It was bad for both of us, that is for for myself and the guy who had been murdered. Yes, he had been brutally murdered. My contact called the police and left the scene for obvious reasons. I stayed and waited for the police to arrive and give them a statement. They took me down town and grilled me for sometime. I was from Chicago after all and they had no knowledge of me or my reputation back in the “Windy City,” thank goodness.

I really needed a drink after all of the questions I was asked. The interrogation was carried out in a threatening manner. The fact that I was from out of town and a reporter didn’t help matters much either. A yellow cab had been called for me and I found it waiting for me as I left Parker Center. I asked the driver to take me to his favorite drinking establishment. I was hoping it had a mellow vibe and I could settle down a little before going on to San Francisco.

I first noticed the feeling of being watched when I had been at this little out of the way bar for about an hour. My next flight wasn’t until tomorrow afternoon so I was in no hurry to leave. I had a room waiting for me in a nearby hotel.

The bar wasn’t anything special. It was just the same old dark smoky room with a few black round tables and a couple of pinball machines ringing in the background. There was the long bar with a few guys sitting and drinking in the middle close together talking about sports, I think. There were few people in the place and that suited me just fine. The bar ended at the juke box which was playing old blue eyes at the very moment that I first felt that strange, little something, in the back part of my brain.

After a few drinks I really started to feel uneasy, and that’s not normal when I start to throw a few back. I do this often sad to say. It comes with the territory and due to the company I have to keep to get my leads. I was now sure someone was watching me but I couldn’t figure out who it might be or why. I didn’t think I had been followed from Chicago.

After a while I wanted to go to the men’s room and climb out the window and disappear into the cold night. But I’m not very athletic. Those years were well behind me and I figured my odds of getting robbed in the bathroom were about fifty-fifty. It turned out that it was that kind of place. Just my luck.

I was really getting paranoid by the time this little cave shut down for the night. I was in a hurry to get to my hotel now and to settle in for the night. I handed the bartender a dollar and he called me a cab. By the time I walked outside, there were two large men in dark suites waiting for me.

To say that they were large would be a gross understatement or inadequate choice of words. I have never seen two men this large in one place together other than Madison Square Garden when the wrestling matches are on. I live just around the corner and go there for fights, now and then.

The sight of these two monsters brought back that insecurity that I had felt inside the bar, only twice as bad. At least now I knew who and where two of my new enemies were. I had never seen either one of them before, but they will always have a special place in my memories, a very special place.

They weren’t your average what you would might call your average gangster type, but they weren’t salesmen, that was for certain. The larger of the two was all of six feet five inches and his companion wasn’t much smaller. They could have been twins. They each must have weighed well over two hundred pounds and neither of them looked like they wanted to talk about anything good. I was very sure that I didn’t want to talk to them. I made a mental note to contact my insurance agent to tell him that I had been hit by a car if I survived my coming encounter with them. I saw a large medical bill in my future. I had scanned the area when I first spotted the two men and made a dash a dark maze of alleys to my right. The cab sat waiting for a fare that wouldn’t arrive.

After running for two or three minutes as fast as I could, My legs were screaming for a needed rest. I reminded myself to start using my gym membership again. I am a lazy dog, sometimes.

As I now walked through years of garbage strewn in front and around me I tried to figure out just what was happening. II stopped and bent over taking in deep breaths and trying to calm myself down. I never played around with married women on purpose and I wasn’t a gambler. I had written a few articles for a magazine and a few small papers now and then about organized crime, but most of that was just fiction. as far as I was concerned. There had been a few real news stories, but didn’t think that they amounted too much at the time. “Could I have been wrong?” I wondered.

Before I had time to think on that much longer, I could hear the exhaust coming from a very large, slow moving car coming in my direction. I heard it speed up and turned to see it coming right at me at a high rate of speed. I ducked into a small alcove as the car sped quickly past me, scrapping the old bricks of the building that now protected me, as it passed quickly by and then it stopped abruptly. I t then left in a great hurry. The exhaust from the large black car almost made me cough, but that would have meant disaster for me, so I held my breath.

I couldn’t think of a better place to hide than in these dark alleys around me. I crossed over the bright busy streets of this large busy town as I tried to find my hotel. I had only stayed there once before. It was very early morning but there were people on the street and the city was coming back to life. I had a small false sense of security due to others out walking around me.

As I waked in the near total darkness, I tripped over an old dirty wino. I asked him if he might know where my hotel might be located and he surprisingly knew it’s location. That was not a good recommendation for the hotel, I thought. I peeled off a dollar from the remaining bills in my pocket and he smiled a toothless grin of thanks as I got my bearings and continued on my way.

I finally came upon the hotel and it’s large parking lot that loomed several yards out in front of me. I stood in the darkness and watched and listened. The air was silent and there was little activity in front of the hotel. It was nearly sunrise as I approached it with caution.

I finally made my move for my rental car. I unlocked the car which was a job in itself due to my constantly shaking hands. I entered the yellow Chevy and settled in behind the wheel. I tried to start the car. It wouldn’t start. It turned over but didn’t start. I waited, holding my breath and looking around me in a hurried fashion hopping to spot no one. I was now just a little lucky. I was still all alone in the parking lot. I tried the car again. It wouldn’t start. Had they rigged my car? Who and how would anyone do that? Was someone now lying in wait in the back seat? I turned around quickly to see the seat upholstery clearly and the seat empty. “Thank good for that,” I whispered. My car started on the third try. It was a Chevy, after all.

I was out on the street before I realized what I was going to do or where I might go. Those were two problems I hadn’t thought about as I drove slowly down the wide avenue. I surely couldn’t go to the cops. They gave me the impression that they thought I had killed my own contact. But that is how they operate, isn’t it. They point the finger at everyone and see who breaks first. I had my hotel room, but did they know about that too? I didn’t have a friend in town, or did I?

There was one person that came to mind. He was the only person I knew in L.A. I m a Chicago guy, through and through, but we had crossed paths on a story a few years back and I knew where he lived. I hadn’t been there but I had the address memorized as we had written several letters to each other over several months recently. Thank god for that.

As I made a left turn at a signal, I noticed the dark car behind me. Yes, the one that had tried to run me over in the alley just an hour or so, ago. They must have been cruising the streets looking for me or knew where I was staying in town. I wondered how that could have been but put the thought out of my mind. That idea brought up more problems that I didn’t want to ponder at the moment.

Mike Jamison was my only hope at the moment and I had just a slight idea where his apartment was located. But first I had to lose these guys if I was to get a chance at figuring out what was going on and who was behind it. If I didn’t lose them, I wouldn’t have a chance.

All I could do was to put the accelerator down and run all of the lights in front of me and get a little distance between them and I. If I were able to do that I might make a few quick turns and lose them. I ran the car as fast as it would go and just wished that those behind me had worse luck than I now had. Thankfully there was little traffic at this early hour. The street lights went off as I ran another red light. That was four in a row now and the car was now just a little farther behind me.

I made a quick left and then another left and doubled back on those following me but two blocks west from the street I had just been traveling on. There was no site of them behind me. I went straight for two more blocks and then turned left again, while running another red light. I crossed over the road they had followed me on and then traveled four more blocks and made another left. I was now heading in the same direction but four blocks east of street we had started out on. I thought that I was very clever and had lost them. They were no where to be seen. “Take that you bastards, who ever you might be.”

I saw Mike’s apartment building as I ran another stop light. I instantly realized that I was going too fast to enter his underground parking lot. I was just lucky that no one was coming out. I flew up the ramp, nearly hitting the top of my rental car on the top of the entry and flew down the ramp inside into a vast nearly full parking lot. The brakes screeched as I tried to stop and half slid across the smooth concrete floor. As I skidded across he floor I could see clouds of smoke coming from my rear tires in my mirror. I nearly hit a parked Caddy as I came to a stop twenty yards from where I had entered. I sat in the car as a cloud of burnt rubber smoke passed over me. It smelled awful.

My car still seemed to be in good running order even as I had nearly crashed several times. I parked it quickly and ran from my car. I couldn’t say the same about my legs. They felt heavy and weak as I climbed up the stairs form the parking lot and into the building’s lobby.

I ran as hard as I could across the lobby and pushed the button for the elevator. I sent the elevator up empty so no one else could use it and then I ran up the stairs. I had plans for the elevator but that would come later, if necessary.

My throat was on fire by the time I reached the third floor. I had plans on jamming the elevator with anything that I might find, but that didn’t work out as planned. It was going down as I reached it. Rotten luck for me but there was nothing I could do about it now. “Oh crap,” was all I could say as I ran on. I kept going up. Well, I tried to run up the stairs. It was more of an interrupted saunter, as I climbed the rest of the five floors to Mike’s apartment. I still had to find apartment five-seventeen and get Mike to let in a nearly total stranger at five forty-five in the morning. We had never seen each other and knew each other slightly through written correspondence.

When I found the smooth golden door with five-seventeen on it I could feel my heart slow down just a little with the thought that perhaps safety waited on the other side. I rang the bell and slumped against the door, resting my pounding head on my bare forearm. My lungs burned as if I were a fire breather in the circus that had made a fatal mistake.

It seemed in the back of my mind that I heard a click and felt a gush of cold air being forced between rubber and steel. The elevator had arrived, but not empty, as planned. The large apartment door opened with the sound of hard wood sweeping over thick carpet.

Mike looked down on me. His eyes were colder than I had hoped.

Two men stepped form the elevator and sent it back down empty. I couldn’t believe what the men were now saying as they walked toward me and the stopped, almost rubbing up against me, from behind. I repeated it to my self over again as I was forced into the apartment by the two large men. “We brought him to you boss, like you told us to. He wasn’t very cooperative.” “I didn’t think he would be gentlemen.” “He’s in your hands now. sir.” “Thank you, you may leave now.”

The sudden thought of my only hope really being my arch enemy of the moment was too much for my weakened frame. I remember feeling sick to my stomach and falling onto the floor in a heap. I can still remember the deep carpet on my face as I broke down.

When I woke up, I was in my apartment. I was on the floor in my own living room between my couch and coffee table. There was a large bump on my forehead. I felt it as I rubbed my had over the spot. There was an empty bottle of Scotch next to me. I had been the victim of drinking too much alcohol and having a vivid imagination, not a dangerous plot of some kind dreamt up by some unknown villain. That was the last time for me. I would finally stop drinking.

I hope you enjoy this little story. If you do, come and take a look at my novels.

As always, Thanks for stopping by, and be nice to each other, R.C. Hand.