A Twist in the Case
At the diner where they first met, Arms and Hog sauntered in and sat at the back with Big Sam and his two henchmen, Billy and Roy. Arms felt a little deja-vu, if it was possible for a logical detective to recognize such a thing, and rested his fedora on his left knee as he pondered how to begin this most careful interview.
But Big Sam cut right in to ask, “Is Foil okay? How’s the guy doing? He took a hard one to the chest, knocked him out cold, and then some. I thought he wasn’t going to make it, I did. He got blood all over my leather seats, the guy was bleeding so bad. I thought I would lose him; someone up there was watching out for the kid this time. Yeah, I just did what any guy would do, it was nothing. Yeah, I just did what was right.” Big Sam stopped to catch his breath, and Arms saw his chance to jump in, saying, “you did what was right Sam, we appreciate that. Foil knows he owes you his life, that goes without saying, but we still got some things to figure out here and I think you can help us even more if you would just tell us the truth.”
Sam started to bluster, “hey Arms I don’t know what you’re talking about, I told you one of my runners come to me with a message from somebody, I don’t know who and told me that Bella was sittin’ at Warehouse 1 and I would find her there inside some kind of shipping container. Hey, that’s all I know, that’s the truth. You gotta believe me.” Sam stopped but he could tell that Arms and Hog did not believe him. He knew he was going to have to come clean and that they would get the truth out of him.
He was just a small-time crook with big time connections and he couldn’t do anymore on his own. His sister was still missing and it had now been five days since she didn’t come home from church. There had been no word from anybody about her, no ransom, no requests, nothing. Things were real bad at home with his Mama and Papa was suffering too. He wasn’t doing so well himself either. His parents were about to go to the police; their trust in his abilities were quickly waning and they hadn’t seen any movement on the detectives’ parts either. Going to the police was the last thing Big Sam needed. Arms and Hog were his only hope, but he would have to come clean.
Arms could tell Sam was nervous and he even seemed frightened. Arms had Sam where he wanted him, uncomfortable and slightly worried. He thought he could finally get some information out of him so that the case could move forward. He looked at Hog, and said, “Listen Sam tell us the truth and we’ll help you with whatever it is you’ve got yourself into. You need some smart guys helping you, and we’re those guys.”
Hog watched as Arms switched his fedora over to his right knee, a signal to Hog that the truth was coming from Sam, who felt almost relieved to be able to spill his secrets to somebody. Sam sat for a few moments and then he said, “Billy, Roy, you get out of here.” Billy and Roy, the two henchmen who never left Sam’s side looked up in surprise. But ever the obedient thugs, they just said, “yes, sir” and got up and left the diner.
Arms and Hog looked at Big Sam and waited. “Boys,” he said finally, “I’m in over my head and I know it. Crime on a small scale, I’m good at, but this shit that I’ve gotten myself into, nah, I can’t get my head round it. Bella going missing, my own sister . . .” he trailed off and sat for a few moments in silence. Arms and Hog just waited. This was one of those moments for patience, no need to press Sam into talking faster than he wanted to, the truth would eventually come out but clearly in his own time.
“See guys, it’s my fault he got shot. It should have been me,” Sam started. No need to explain who “he” was in this context, Arms and Hog both knew Sam meant Foil and they were immediately on edge. Sam continued, “I was double crossed. But I didn’t know about Bella being at the Port, and one of my runners got a call, see, from someone and I didn’t know who, the guy said Bella was at Warehouse 1, but I was already going to Warehouse 1 to pick up some goods, and then Foil showed up and I didn’t know he was coming and it all got confusing . . .” again, Sam trailed off.
At this bit of information, both Arms and Hog looked up sharply. “What? You didn’t know Foil was on his way to the Port?” demanded Arms. “What are you saying, you didn’t have someone call me, one of your runners maybe? Then we were both double-crossed. This is some crazy shit, this case. One of our own men goes in to help someone and almost gets killed. Shit.” Arms looked visibly shaken, one of those rare occasions when he showed his raw emotions. Hog, too, was clearly surprised by this information and felt knocked off guard by it. This put a wrench in the whole business because it meant that someone else bigger out there was pulling strings and calling the shots in a city where the Swine’s detectives had since been in control.
Now, they all looked at each other. The need to get all the facts down on the table was essential at this point and Arms knew it. Just the facts, and only the facts. “So, let’s get on with it then,” he thought. “Okay, Sam let’s have the straight dope now. Just tell it like it is from the beginning and don’t bullshit me.”
Big Sam’s Dark Secrets
Sam sighed. He looked worn out, and suddenly younger than he was. In fact, he was probably about the same age as the detectives but he was ill-prepared for this level of criminal deviance and activity. His racket was more roughing up a few guys on the street corner and collecting his weekly dues from various shop owners. Occasionally, he made a foray into some heavier crime but killings and kidnappings were way out of his league.
He began, “just before the time that Brendan O’ Shea was murdered I was approached by a guy who said he needed someone to fence some stolen property in the neighborhood. Well, that’s my thing, I know everyone and I knew I could get some good prices for him. I didn’t know what the goods were, but he said that they were worth a lot of money and were high end.”
“I wanted to expand my business and he seemed on the up and up, at least for a criminal, so I said I would help him. He was a strange looking guy, kind of crippled like, and bent over like an old man. He had two other guys with him who stood straight and tall, and seemed to take the crippled guy’s orders.” Here Sam paused and took a drink of water. He was sweating and clearly uncomfortable.
But he continued, “so I said I would help him, and again asked what the goods were; how was I supposed to find a buyer if I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. He wouldn’t tell me, just kept saying they were high end and I should find someone rich. No problem. I was confident I could do the job, it seemed easy.” Again, Sam paused. Arms and Hog were staring at him, waiting.
On he went, “well, I was in the thick of this agreement when that body washed up on Venice beach and my inside guy at the police station tipped me off that it was probably Brendan O’ Shea. Well, here things get tricky, Arms, it was the old crippled guy who asked me to call you in on the case. I couldn’t say anything at the time because I was in the middle of my deal with him, so I had to come up with a second reason to talk to you and I knew my sister was probably carrying on with an undesirable guy who I wanted out of the way anyway, so this seemed like the perfect excuse.”
This information was clearly incredibly hard for Big Sam to say to Arms for it had all come out of him very haltingly and slowly. And it had the exact effect that Sam expected, Arms was furious and by how!
“What the fuck?!” he yelled and stood up out of his chair; patrons at the diner looked up and towards the back. Arms was standing now glowering at Big Sam. He looked like he would punch him right then and there, but Hog stood up and put his hand on Arms’s shoulder. It had the desired effect in that moment, and Arms visibly calmed down. He looked around, nodded at the patrons, and sat down, but he was still furious. He had been stupidly gullible thinking that Big Sam needed a real favor for his family, what a fool he was, what a stupid fool.
Hog stepped in to smooth out the tension, “hey, Sam, slow down a bit and take it one step at a time. What happened after you talked to Arms? Things seemed to go from bad to worse for you. Maybe take us back to the night of the church social when Bella went missing, you had an idea who took her didn’t you? I could tell you were holding something back then.”
“Yeah, I think the old crippled man took her. He’d seen her once in the neighborhood, and later he told me that she was a pretty little thing and he wouldn’t mind having her in his harem. Well, that got me good, I almost shot him myself then and there for talking so nasty like that about my sister. But when I took a step toward him, one of his guys came for me and it was then that I noticed the guy had a thick scar running down the length of his left cheek. Well, I saw that guy again the night Foil was shot. He was bending over him, checking to see if he was dead, and then I knew that he was waiting for me and I should have been the one shot, not Foil.”
Again, Arms shot up from his chair and this time he pulled out his gun. He was ready to shoot Big Sam right then and there in cold blood in front of every single diner patron; he cared little for the consequences or his own future, his rage was boiling over and all he could see was Sam dead on the ground in front of him. It took all of Hog’s strength to get him to calm down, and relax.
But Arms was having none of it; he couldn’t believe the utter disregard for the code of honor among thieves and detectives that Big Sam had blithely broken, every code in the book, he had just run rough shod over. No honor at all; he spit on this man who called himself a crime boss, and then and there, Arms lost all respect for Big Sam.
This was a pity because Big Sam really wasn’t that bad of a guy, just foolishly arrogant in his belief that he had any control over anything in his tiny world of low-grade crime. There were always going to be bigger men, and better criminals in Big Sam’s world, but he hadn’t known that and still might not. Deep down he had a decent heart; he definitely loved his sister and was totally distraught that he might have contributed to her being abducted and maybe even killed. The days were ticking by and still there had been no word about where she was or who she was with or where she had gone on the night of the church social. The blood, her blood, had shocked Big Sam into questioning his own role in her abduction and he had tried to find the old crippled man again, but to no avail.
It was only when he saw the man with the scar run away from Foil’s body that he realized just how deep he was into the worst side of criminal life, the dark side that was unsalvageable and worse yet, took human life utterly and totally for granted. His petty criminality now seemed like a walk in the sunshine compared to what he had gotten himself into and dragged Bella down into as well, if she was even still alive.
Arms’s Rage Leads to Clarity
The meeting with Sam had come to an abrupt end at that moment when Arms realized that Sam had betrayed even the most basic code of honor between them, that of protecting those who were protecting and helping him. Foil’s attempted murder and near death had already affected Arms and Hog hugely, and this new information left them reeling.
Hog, ever the steady man of the three felt the burden of keeping Arms on the straight and narrow and away from the bottom of the bottle. But this was a tall task, indeed. Arms sat in his office buried in his blues music and his drink, lost in the darkness of rage. Yet even in this state, facts were becoming clear to him; this is the way it always happened with Arms’s brain: he needed to let his rage take over, and bury himself in his thoughts before anything crystalized.
No other person would be able to survive such a combination, but there was something about Arms and his ability to withstand pain, rage, and destructive actions; he simply thrived instead of falling apart. And now was no different; he figured out pretty quickly from the secrets that Big Sam let flow out of him that the man with the scar down the left side of his face was dangerous and brutal, ready to take anyone out no matter who they were.
He had clearly been the one to call Arms on the night Foil was shot, pretending to be one of Big Sam’s errand boys; Big Sam thought he was the target, but now Arms knew that Foil was the real target. The Swine’s detectives were getting closer than they had realized to somebody or something and one of them needed to be taken out of the game. That one just happened to be Foil. Arms, when he was in a more balanced and sober state would come to recognize that he had to thank Big Sam for saving Foil’s life; there was no getting around it, Big Sam had some decency left in him yet.
But at this moment Arms was deep into a bottle of The Famous Grouse, and John Lee Hooker was wailing into his brain; one compounded the other and left room only to think and do nothing else. And think he did, until he came to the conclusion that he and Hog had to return to Warehouse 1 and discover exactly what was hidden in that vast building that stood on the edge of the Port of Los Angeles. Foil was getting too close to something inside the building and he had to be got rid of; shooting him was the easiest answer.
The clues were staring Arms right in the face, everything was tied to Warehouse 1; Big Sam had told them so; at the diner he had said he was on his way there to pick up some goods, and before he left he got a call about Bella, a tip off that she was hidden in a shipping container in the Warehouse; then he encountered Foil. The man with the scar on this face was there too, but why? What was he doing? What or who was he trying to protect? The crippled man or someone else with more power?
Charlie Martin or Antonio Boudreau, whichever anybody preferred to call him, had been picked up at sea having obviously floated out past the Warehouse or maybe even been dumped overboard near that area. The body of Brendan O’Shea, which washed up on Venice Beach might even be tied to the Port and Warehouse 1 because he was a smuggler of exotic animals. Everything pointed to this gigantic behemoth of a building with its vast and cavernous insides filled to the brim with anything imported, smuggled, bought, sold, hidden or even left to rot.
And clearly there was something in there that at the very least the man with the scar did not want the Swine’s detectives to find or discover. Arms felt his rage dissipating and his brain clearing as his thoughts began to formulate into an organized plan. And it was this, he and Hog would return to Warehouse 1 and discover what was inside the building. They would go armed; Hog was an excellent shot and Arms had his trusty mistress, which had never let him down.
They would bring Big Sam as well. He now owed them, despite having saved Foil’s life. His betrayal of their trust needed to be worked off like a debt, and he was strong, even if he was dumb. He could handle a gun, he could shoot, and he could fight. Yes, Sam was a damn good fighter, he would have to come with them since they were down one man. Foil being out of commission was a hindrance to the detectives, but it was not an impossibility. Arms and Hog would leave Foil out of the case for now, so he could heal.
In the foolish ways of men, both Arms and Hog believed that they were protecting Foil, but they were only doing him a disservice as a man, as a friend, and definitely as a detective.
Bette Offers Foil Salvation
Foil had finally been released from the hospital into his parents’ care, and was recovering at their home. He felt useless and unwell. He hankered after the streets and physical action, but was still an invalid in a chair; this frustrated him and made him feel like a lost man. He spent his days now out in the garden staring at nothing in particular. He was actually slowly getting better, but he was in a terrible state mentally and he was letting this take over his world.
It didn’t help that he was no longer involved with the case; Arms and Hog had left him alone so far and this was the worst decision that they could have made for a man like Foil, a man who thrives on physical movement and quick decision making. Ever since the war, when his life turned upside down Foil had not been able to be still or to contemplate simple things. He desired constant difference, which is why he went after women so often.
And now he was physically stagnating and unresponsive, practically wallowing in self-pity and frustration at not being able to finish the job that he started out doing, which was searching for Bella in Warehouse 1. He was unaware of Big Sam’s betrayal of him, and the other detectives. Arms had chosen not to tell him of this and Hog had kept mum as well. Men are often foolish about other men, and believe that silence is better under certain circumstances, but in this instance, Foil would have been much better off if his friends had kept him in the loop about the case. At this point, Foil was suffering more than when he was in the war for inaction breeds apathy and in turn that cuts a man off from himself.
Bette was a woman who understood Foil; unlike many of the women in his life, she had seen deep into his soul, into that lost part of himself that was left behind in the war and she was able to bring his old sweet self to the surface. She didn’t have to crawl into bed with him to be able to help him; she had lived a hard life herself and knew the kind of pain that he suffered from, the human pain of loneliness, of heartbreak, of loss. She had felt it all in her short life, for she was at least ten years younger than Foil, and she connected with him on the level of one human being to another.
He may not have understood any of this, but she did, and that was why she gravitated towards him and stayed near him. She knew that he needed care, and that she could give it to him. Although she was not a good girl in society’s eyes, nor did other women find her acceptable as she deemed herself a “lady of the night,” she did understand how to heal another person’s heart and soul. She had that gift, and she brought that to Foil in the most understated of ways, as both a friend and a lover. She didn’t mother him like some women did; she didn’t pander to him or put him on a pedestal or make him beg for anything or play any games; she was a straight talker and a frank person. But in her own way she did love him, and it was that love, the liminal love that she could offer that saved his life. And she was once again able to offer him salvation, like some angel of mercy.
Foil turned his head when he heard his mother come out into the garden and Bette was standing there with her. The sun was setting behind Bette and it shone out around her brunette hair, giving her a new sense of beauty. And then it was gone as his mother said, “Seán, someone from the church is here to see you.” And Foil realized that Bette was in a dress he had never seen before.
Bette stepped off the patio on to the grass and moved towards Foil, her dress shifting over her hips and making a kind of swooshing sound that awoke his senses. She sat down next to him with the requisite distance between them for two supposed strangers and she produced a bible, which she set on her lap and opened as if she was bringing him religious salvation but of course her salvation was anything but religious. They looked at each other, he with sadness and pain in his eyes, she with care and something akin to love.
They didn’t say anything at first; there was a strange nervousness between them. Their typical and preferred place of meeting was in bed, but here there was something else, something stronger and deeper that was going to help Foil move beyond himself into the light of the world and give him strength to survive being shot in the chest and almost dying.
“How are you feeling?” asked Bette quietly, looking down at the bible and pretending to care about it.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” said Foil, though she and he knew he wasn’t.
“The boys are on to something with the case. You need to get well, and on your feet so you can help them.” She said this plainly and without much emotion because it was a simple fact that he needed to get on with living.
“I haven’t heard anything,” said Foil in response. They seem to be keeping back information, but I want to know what is going on.”
Their conversation was stilted and halting, but it was moving forward and Foil could feel himself returning from the dead in her presence and that was all that mattered to them both.
She sat there for a few more minutes, pretending to say a prayer with him, holding the bible like it mattered to her when it did not, so that she could be near him or near enough for it to mean something in the moment.
He could feel her warmth radiating towards him and this was enough for him to begin to come out of the stupor that had plagued him ever since he woke up in the hospital. And then she rose to go. He wanted to reach out to her, to touch her, to hold her and to be near her but that would have given away everything and it was simply not possible.
“Thank you, Mr. Finegan for seeing me,” she said loud enough for his mother to hear. And then she stepped away from him and was gone across the lawn and out the door. He watched her go, and then took a deep breath, his first since he was shot, filling his lungs to their full capacity. He let his breath out slowly into the garden air, feeling released from captivity and ready to fly free.