The Frolic Room
Men like to talk when their wives, girlfriends and mistresses aren’t around. And at the LA speakeasy, the Frolic Room, the men talked a lot, and often. Hog was the exception. He sat at his favorite table concentrating on his poker hand. He was steely and cunning but exuded a friendly air so the other players were caught off guard when he won, which was always. He was playing in a secret backroom of this speakeasy a day after Arms had his moment of clarity with a new plan about Warehouse 1. It was a Saturday night, they were planning on hitting the warehouse on Monday night, so there was still time to fill his monthly quota at the poker table. The Frolic Room had a disreputable air, good booze, and many beautiful women. Always draped with flashy jewels they took men in pin striped suits off into dark corners and made their dreams come true.
The cigarette haze upon stepping into the speakeasy hit a person full in the face and then enveloped each man and woman standing or sitting, so that there was a misty, slightly grimy feeling to the place. But no one cared because they were all drunk off of alcohol and the nicotine haze that floated everywhere. The place was run by Delores, a madam of the highest repute, who ran a clean bordello out the back of the speakeasy and protected her girls, often running men out in the middle of the night who thought that they could get a lot for nothing. She was a big woman with an even bigger voice. Hog could hear her before she entered the room, but she was fair and stayed just on this side of the law so there was really nothing anyone could do about her establishment. Anyway, half the town’s law enforcement and judges visited her girls.
But Hog just came to play poker, and to mind his own business. This night Laura thought he was with Arms and Hog never said otherwise. He typically arrived at the Frolic Room with a couple hundred in his pocket and left with at least $10,000, having played all night long and beaten every new fool in town.
He never cheated, though. That went against his ethics and honor. But he played a long, slow game and typically outlasted his opponents who were boasters, clowns, and those down on their luck who wanted a shot at the big table. No, what made Hog the best poker player was his sheer patience and willpower to wait out a game. Sometimes he folded just to keep things interesting for himself, but inevitably when he chose to, he won every single time.
The regulars and locals wouldn’t play against him for anything, but there was always some dope who thought he could beat the master. Hog came once a month to stoke his winnings and fraternize with the criminal underclass and high rollers alike. These were the players who always made the most desperate bets, or the most risky plays; he knew them all, but his cunning made him hard to read at the table.
Was he bluffing? He wasn’t a large man, he wasn’t gruff or pushy, he didn’t drink very much or bring any ladies around. He sat still, smoked his cigarettes, and patiently waited for others to fuck up. That was his angle and it was a good one. Tonight, he was up by $5000, having started with only $500 in his pockets. The table was filled with the usual buffoons and blusterers, believing that they could make a buck off the small guy in the blue suit who looked so unassuming and quiet. “Yeah, it was going to be a good night,” thought Hog to himself, “almost too easy.”
The dealer, a large guy who also doubled on some nights as a bouncer, cut the cards and set everyone up with their chips to play what turned out to be a fairly short game. Hog won a measly $300 on that round, but he didn’t mind these small winnings. Anything was helpful, for detective work didn’t always pay the mortgage. Laura, of course, would never have approved but she also didn’t object to a nice diamond necklace, or being able to purchase that new Frigidaire. No need to tell her that the money came from some low life who had gambled his life savings away on a night of drinking, women and poker.
Hog was a proud man. He didn’t think of his monthly poker winnings as gambling but more like flexing his brain muscles for his rigorous detective work. However, on this night Hog was feeling a little rough around the edges; $300 was small fry and even with the $5000 already in his pocket, he was waiting for some other dupe to show up and make his night worthwhile. And then the biggest fool appeared at the table, an American from Texas, replete with a ten-gallon hat, spurs on his cowboy boots, and the requisite fringe on his coat. He looked like a character out of the Lone Ranger TV show. A real cowboy in the flesh walking into the speakeasy, and putting down a pile of money in front of him. He was ready to play. “And,” thought Hog, “ready to lose.”
A Reveal at the Poker Table
“Hey, everybody,” he said in a long Texas drawl, “you mind if I join you and play a hand or two?” The dealer pointed to a chair across from Hog, and knew what was coming. Hog had not seen the man come in; he only sat with his back to the door. He never liked to be disturbed by people coming in, he didn’t want to see their faces, know their names, or interact with them. All of that threw him off his game. Only when they sat down, did he size them up and make choices about how he would play. Sometimes he was very friendly and talked a lot, this encouraged men to open up and forget to pay attention to the game. Sometimes men didn’t want to talk, though this was more rare and then he just played it straight, and used his brain to outwit them.
It wasn’t that the dealer favored him, because he didn’t always have the same dealer, but Hog just simply seemed to have a winning streak that never ended. He could always count on making a killing at the Frolic Room. It was like clockwork for him, and he never got tired of it. And like most men who had been to war, he could compartmentalize. He never let anyone see his satisfaction at winning; he played it cool all the time, and that made it very hard to read him. That’s the way he liked it.
On this night, the Texan was one of the high rollers at the table. He had money to burn, and though Hog won consistently, the Texan hardly seemed to care. The Texan, unnamed so far, for he had never offered to say, really liked to talk. He yammered on about so many subjects that Hog began to tune him out for fear that he would throw Hog off his game, and upset his winning streak. Hog’s ability to shut off from those around him served him well, and in this moment when the Texan was boasting about something unmentionable with a woman, Hog had almost succeeded in blocking out his voice when he heard the Texan start talking about hunting exotic animals in Africa.
“Yes,” came the drawl across the table, loud and clear for everyone to hear in the speakeasy, “I like to hunt for big game. No doubt about it. I knew a fellow, way back who used to have the best hunts. We would travel to Africa and he had a way of finding the choicest spots. Didn’t charge much either and we always got our trophy. He was selective about who went. He had a lot of money, but I never knew where any of it came from. Me, I hit oil in Texas, and I’ll tell you that straight to your face. I don’t hide nothin’, ain’t no reason to.” And here he stopped to take a long swig of his beer (cheap beer that Delores bought off men in the back alley and sold for twice as much.) Then he launched into his story again.
“Yeah, one time I went on one of these trips, I wanted to get me some ivory tusks. Those elephants they’re slow animals, easy to shoot and take down.”
Hog could hear the sliminess in the Texan’s voice and felt immediate disgust. It was not that he was any kind of animal lover, though in the back of his mind, he did have some sense that shooting animals just for sport was a base way to live. No, he could tell that this man in his oblivious boasting didn’t have much of a soul, and that meant he had no ethics either. Hog’s revenge for these kinds of men at the poker table was to take them for every dime they had and then some.
“I got a big one,” said the Texan. “Sure as if I had just stepped out of the door on a breezy day, there stood an elephant and I just shot it. Easiest shot I ever took, brought back some nice looking ivory and this guy who took us, he got me a pretty price for it. O’ Shea I think his name was, yeah, that’s it. This guy O’ Shea, yeah, he had some racket going bringin’ in animals to the US illegally. I didn’t want any of that affair, but he did find me a pretty price for them tusks.”
Here the Texan was asked how many cards he wanted by the dealer and he had to stop to concentrate for a moment. Hog twitched, he was on high alert now, but no one noticed; he eyed the Texan carefully in a side glance. He was listening but appearing to look at his cards, quiet and stealth-like. Then Hog spoke for the first time, startling the dealer who had not heard Hog say a word all night to any of the players.
“And what happened to this O’ Shea guy,” Hog asked casually, “does he still take people to Africa?”
“You know,” said the Texan putting forward a large bet that he was sure to lose, “I heard along the grapevine somewhere that he got shot or ended up in the ocean or something like that. He was a big-time smuggler, I think. That’s just what I think, I don’t for sure, but he had a lot of money, a lot of pretty girls, and a lot of drugs. Yeah, he was man who knew what he wanted, until he didn’t and was dead.”
And then Hog asked a final question, just before he cleaned out the Texan and went home with a neat $10,000 for his night’s work, “do you know if he worked with anyone else, maybe someone is still taking people to Africa.”
“You know,” said the Texan, “I seem to remember he had a wife with him on those trips, a pretty little thing, who waited on him hand and foot. I say, I wouldn’t mind me a woman like that. She might still be around. I think she had something to do with the business, but I can’t tell you for sure. Yeah, she was a pretty thing; any man would have been glad to have her.” And then he looked down at his poker hand and realized that he had lost everything to Hog.
On Monday morning, after the Saturday that Hog had won his money off the Texan, Foil walked into Swine’s Detective Agency not quite a fully recovered man, but certainly better off than he had been before Bette’s visit. He had ditched his cane out of sheer stubbornness and walked a little stiffly still. Yet, he managed to appear pretty solid, and if someone hadn’t known he was shot in the chest and almost died from his wound they would have just thought he had been in some kind of altercation or fight.
He carried his right arm a little bit in front of him, as if to ward off anyone coming too close. But, of course, the only danger he had in that regard was Mildred, who saw him and almost burst out crying from the sheer joy of his presence in the office. After allowing Mildred to fret over him a little bit too much he made his way down the hall to Arms’s office and stepped inside, smiling genially. Both Arms and Hog looked up in surprise. They had not expected him to return so soon, but they were very glad he was back.
It felt good to be together again, and for the occasion Arms brought out his Famous Grouse whiskey to share a shot with his friends. The camaraderie was palpable among the three, but of course they needed to get down to business. Their plan was to hit Warehouse 1 that night because most shipments didn’t come in until Wednesday. Mondays were typically slow and quiet at the Port, and this was a good time to stake out the area, where Arms knew everything centered in the case. They would return at midnight, the same time that Foil had been there before.
Arms and Hog were a bit concerned that Foil might balk at going back to Warehouse 1 the same day he got back to the office, but they needn’t have worried. Foil was a strong man, and was ready to get back in the fray. In fact, he was itching to be active again, and work for a living. The days recuperating at his parents’ house had been good for his body, but not his mind. Bette had set him straight with her visit and brought him back from the dead with her presence, but it was action and movement that he needed now and he was looking forward to being back at Warehouse 1 to figure out exactly why the man with the scar on his face didn’t want him poking around.
No, it would be good to be back in action. He had his trusty Ruger Blackhawk pistol with him; he always came prepared, and he knew he would be fine. Of course, anyone else might not have been ready, but Foil had been through the war and knew how to steel himself against his own fears.
To Hog and Arms, he looked like a man who could use a bit more care but they left him alone and moved on to discussing the case. Now was their chance to go over everything and lay out in front of them what they all knew. Arms took out a drawing of the Warehouse itself and set it in front of the others on his desk. “I got this off a guy down at the planning office,” said Arms, reaching for his shot of Famous Grouse and tossing it back with the skill of someone who knows just how to drink whiskey and feel the best burn go down his throat. “Okay,” he thought to himself, “it’s time to get sober now,” and he tucked the bottle away in the top drawer of his desk.
The old fan whirred, pushing the hot air around the office, as Arms leaned back in his chair and let Hog and Foil look at the drawing. “We gotta be careful about this case, it’s gotten dangerous and hard and we can’t take any chances tonight at the warehouse. We gotta get in there, find what we need and get out,” said Arms, taking the lead as was his habit.
“You both got your guns?” he asked Foil and Hog, “we got Big Sam and his henchman in tow, but we gotta watch them too. Sometimes they get stupid and fuck up, especially Billy and Roy who have a habit of getting too cock sure and foolish. They’re always lookin’ to be heroes, we can’t have that shit tonight. But we need the manpower, so we just got to make sure they back us up,” said Arms.
Hog pulled back a corner of his suit to show Arms the 1911m military grade pistol that he had acquired in the war and that was now tucked into his belt, and Foil pulled out his Ruger Blackhawk, placing it on the desk in front of him. Arms nodded, to register his approval. “Yeah, the boys are ready,” thought Arms. He could always count on them. Of course, their detective’s motto was rightly “think first, shoot later,” but later could be at any moment. Given the chance, they knew someone else would take them out fast and easy like and have no regrets. So, they came prepared with the best weapons available.
“We got a lot of loose clues to tie up,” said Foil, continuing to strategize, “and we can’t forget about that guy Charlie Martin or Antonio Boudreau, whatever he’s called; he’s a small fry in the giant cog that is this case, but he meant somethin’ to someone and he got taken out in a pretty brutal way. Those deep gouges in his face, do we think maybe they came from some kind of animal? They looked suspiciously familiar to me, but I can’t figure out where I’ve seen them before.”
“We’re lookin’ for anything that has to do with Brendan O’Shea’s smuggling ring,” said Arms, getting that look in his eyes when he starts to lay out a long list of points in a plan, keen and focused he was, “and now we know courtesy of Hog’s luck at the Frolic Room that O’Shea was definitely bringing in exotic animals through the Port to sell to traders. It’s a wonder he didn’t get caught, but there are many crooked shipping Captains out there willing to make a buck on a rare animal or two. Just look the other way and take the cash. There could be anything in the warehouse and we’ve got to find it.”
Hog lit a cigarette and pulled a long drag from it, remembering the foolish Texan who he had cleaned out on Saturday night. That was a stroke of luck, for sure, hearing about O’Shea, but it wasn’t luck that helped him take all the man’s money, no that was skill pure and simple.
They all sat for a moment, thinking about and staring at the drawing of Warehouse 1. “Yeah,” said Foil, finally, “I think we can approach the warehouse from the south corner, which is the farthest away from the Port and the shipping docks. That was where I got shot, I know it well,” and here he paused and seemed to take in a sharp breath. The other two looked at him, but didn’t say anything. They were both a bit worried about Foil. Still, they didn’t think he would be in the offices if he wasn’t ready.
“Look we need to approach from the southside, just like Foil says, and then move into the warehouse to search for Bella,” said Hog with frustration and urgency in his voice, “there are so many places to hide things and people in that building, but I still think she’s in there and I’m definitely going to find her tonight!” Hog’s emphasis didn’t surprise either man sitting in the office with him. They knew Hog was fierce about finding people and he had felt the failure when he was unable to locate Bella quickly; this was personal to Hog, and he was going to make it right for Mama and Papa Scorvino and bring their little girl back to them. He just knew she was alive, or at least he prayed, (when he prayed at all), that she would be found in Warehouse 1.
So, they all agreed: Warehouse 1 at midnight with Big Sam, Billy, and Roy in tow. Armed and careful, they would enter by the south corner and search for anything having to do with O’Shea, Boudreau and definitely they would find Bella.
It was late, Hog needed to talk to Laura and drove home. They would all meet back at the offices at 11:30pm and drive to the Port. Arms and Foil sat together in silence, there was nowhere to go, really, and Arms felt like something needed to be said, but he wasn’t sure how to get it out.
Arms was a stoic man and not prone to showing much emotion, but Foil getting shot and barely surviving had shifted something in him that went beyond his usual reserved nature. “Good to have you back with us Foil,” said Arms finally. Foil heard what he needed to hear in the moment, and just said, “yeah, good to be back.” It was enough between the two men, for each knew that their friendship ran deep and that they didn’t need to say any more.
The night was muggy and hot, and Foil could already feel the sweat dripping down his back as he drove with Arms and Hog to Warehouse 1. They entered through the unmanned gates, and practically coasted down the long stretch of road to the south side of the warehouse entrance. This was the farthest from the water, but also the least visible from the rest of the Port, where people might still be working, though there were very few out tonight because of the heat.
The main shipping containers arrived mid-week, so Monday nights were typically dead and the detectives knew this; they counted on a surprise attack on whoever might be inside, if anybody was there at all. The behemoth of a warehouse loomed large in front of them as they pulled up in the shadows of the empty ships. It was another quiet night, but unlike when Foil had been there previously, on this night the moon shone bright and strong over them. They had a naturally lit pathway to their destination. Big Sam, Billy and Roy were already there, standing in a group and looking like they were about to rob a bank, not creep up on someone undetected.
Both Billy and Roy carried machine guns, holding them close to their chests and standing erect, waiting for Arms’s signal to move. Arms noted the size and shape of their firearms and clocked the unnecessary need for them, but he couldn’t do anything about it at the moment. They were thugs through and through, and he never really liked them. He only tolerated them because he worked so much with Big Sam, who he also just barely tolerated. Big Sam towered over Billy and Roy, and looked imposing though it was clear he was none too happy to be there.
“Hey, Arms,” he said to the boys as they got out of their car quietly, “what do you want us to do?” Big Sam’s voice practically boomed out over the quiet space next to the warehouse, though he spoke in a whisper. Arms shot him a look that shut him up, but the question remained how to move forward as a group without being conspicuous and calling attention to themselves. Arms sized up the situation quickly, looking around and deciding on the spot to stay together. It would be best to move as a group and then split up later on to search the entire building. He knew it would probably come to that because Warehouse 1 was a cavernous mass of space, and to cover every inch of it would take them all night so splitting up was necessary.
But at that moment he just signaled for Foil and Hog to fall in behind him, and for Big Sam, Billy and Roy to come up the rear. They moved swiftly and quietly to the south side ramp, holding their guns at the ready, and being on the alert for any strange noises or movements coming at them from out of the shadows. If someone looked at this small mass of men from a great height, they would see what looked like a black beetle scuttling along on the concrete towards the warehouse.
Foil felt the heaviness of the heat in the air as it settled around him and his breath caught in a stuttering wave of feeling. He couldn’t bring himself to hold back the fear of being shot again, letting a wave of it wash over him before he pushed it away with all his strength to walk forward. Looking up he could see the lion’s heads, which decorated the sides of the warehouse, staring down at him in mock proudness. As he neared the building, he could feel a waft of cool air coming from inside and held himself steady once again. The moment had passed and he was fine. As Bette had said, “the boys needed him right now,” and he would be there for them. Moving up the ramp like soldiers on the field of battle, the men walked inside and fell away from one another.
They were in the dark with the moonlight casting shimmering shadows into the entrance. There was electricity in the building of course and they all had flashlights, but there was no need to risk light at this time. They let their eyes adjust to what was around them, and finally could see that at the far end of this space was a door leading into the warehouse itself. They walked towards it, opened it, and found themselves in a long hallway with many doors leading to god knows what or where. It was a surprise to be faced with so many choices, and in the moment, they were unsure what to do.
But Arms had studied the plan of the building and knew to take the last door on the right at the end, and this would lead them into the larger spaces of Warehouse 1. It was a tight space for men to move together and they ended up falling in line, single file and following Arms towards the correct door. He hadn’t meant to be their leader, but it was an innate role for him. For try as he might, Arms could not always make himself subject to others’ rules. His mind leapt ahead to a plan, and he had to organize it, and in the end execute it himself.
Walking through the last door on the right, the men entered an enormous space filled with shipping containers of all shapes and sizes. In the dark they looked like a child’s set of building blocks scattered across the vast floor. This was the first floor of the warehouse and Arms sensed that the danger was far above them; they needed to move along and get to the higher floors. Pulling their flashlights out, they crept along searching for the stairwell. Entering a door at the far end of this first-floor space, they were suddenly confronted with something that sounded like a jet engine taking off. Hog recognized it as the sound of a deep freezer running.