Chapter Three: I Walk The Line
“Last call to place your bets. Up next, the third race of today’s trifecta. It’s been a fast track today, post time in fifteen minutes…”
The race caller’s announcement caused a flurry of activity in the stands as people made their way to the windows to place their bets. There was a large crowd at Santa Anita Park, and it wasn’t just in the grandstand. Most of the boxes were filled. In the box next to us, there was a young woman wearing a bright yellow dress with a low scalloped neck and a white wide brimmed hat hanging on to every syllable spoken by her companion, a much older man. In spite of the heat of the day, she had a fox fur draped around her shoulders.
“Come on, Franny, make a pick,” Dom said drawing my attention back to the race card in his hand.
I looked down at the names of the horses running in the next race, but it was all Greek to me – Bel Ami, Lysander, Fool’s Gold, Poinciana – I couldn’t tell a Derby Winner from a nag. I shook my head and handed him back the form.
“It’s your money. I don’t want to waste it.”
“All the information is there, you just have to dig it out. Take Lysander. He made his bones running on slower turf. He’s tapped out. Hasn’t placed all season. Fool’s Gold has the best odds, but the payout’s too low – you’d have to put down too much to make it worth your while.”
“What about this one? Harlequin’s Ruff?” I asked.
“Forget it. Never bet a horse that makes its bones in claiming races.” He tapped the paper. “Now, this one, I like. Poinciana. Her dam is Fine Fettle who ran the middle at Hialeah. Morning line odds have this filly at ten to one. I’ve got a feeling about this one. I think it’s going to hit it in the third.” He pulled a twenty dollar bill out of his wallet. “Go over to window 1. It’s at the far end. Cholly’ll take the bet.” He handed me an extra two dollars. “And get us two Cokes and something to eat if you’re hungry.” I had never seen Dom drink anything that wasn’t coffee or alcohol, but I was thirsty. The drive up 134 had been beautiful but hot because of the ever present California sunshine which I was still getting used to. Dom was a good driver, confident, and I was thankful to be a passenger so that I could admire the palm trees and bright blue sky. We drove with the top down on the Chrysler and the radio playing Big Band all the way to the track. Tommy Dorsey, Harry James – strictly squaresville nowadays, but sometimes I don’t mind. It reminds me of my parents, and of summer nights back at home, when you could hear the music drifting out of the window of Mrs. Benedetti’s apartment, her old gramophone providing the soundtrack to my childhood. The drive down blew away some of the bad juju that I was left with after my run-in with Tate. It had lingered well after I gotten back to the office, leaving me restless and on edge, but driving in the convertible I turned my face to the sun and breathed in the divine smell of the orange groves that lined the highway after we drove past the city limits.
Santa Anita Park had appeared like a pale blue and sparkling white dream against the backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains. As we drove up, the attendant waved us through, not charging Dom the twenty five cents for parking, and we pulled into the lot nearest the art deco entrance to the grandstand. Once inside the Park, Dom led us to a box trackside. We had a wonderful view. Palm trees ringed the track and swayed slightly with the breeze coming down off the mountain. I was grateful that we had a box to ourselves but it was high noon, and the heat of the day was building, so when Dom handed me the money to place the bet, I took it gladly. It was a relief to step into the shade under the blue and white striped awnings and make my way to the betting windows. I approached Window One with a smile, but the man behind the glass was, what all business. He took my bet without raising his eyes from the Trainer’s Guide magazine. I went to the Concessions and waited for the two bottles of Coke. I added two hot dogs to the order for good measure. When I returned to the box, my seat was occupied by a little man wearing a straw hat with a bright yellow ribbon and a loud plaid jacket with a bow tie. The man spotted me and stood. Dom looked up, not pleased, but quickly hid it with a smile as he made the introductions.
“Vince, this is my niece, Franny. Franny, this is Vince Verona.”
“Meetcha,” Vince said as he parked his cigar between his teeth before shaking my hand. Behind the pungent cloud of smoke, Vince’s eyes were sharp and shrewd, a contrast to his almost humorously flamboyant hat and clothes.
“Who do you like in the next race?” Dom asked Vince.
“Me? I’m only here to clock the workouts,” Vince said. “Though, if I were to make a pick, it’s best to put your dough on a horse that has a leg on each of the four corners. That last run was a total boat race, I mean to tell you.”
“A boat race? What’s that?” I asked.
“The odds on the favorite were too good. The figure horses weren’t even trying.”
“You mean the race was fixed?” Both men looked at me blandly.
“I had Franny put a double sawbuck on Poinciana,” Dom said.
“Poinciana, huh? Could be a winner. A good, leggy horse like that looks like she can run,” Vince said sagely.
“You can still put money down before post time,” Dom said.
“Me? I like to see a little more daylight between the contenders. But if were to go all in, I’d put my money on Arpeggio.”
Vince picked up the racing form and tapped it with a stubby finger. “Arpeggio is stabled with Bird in Flight. Late edition to the sixth. Bird in Flight will get out ahead, run the other horses down. Then Arpeggio will be primed to take the field.” Dom looked at him shrewdly, clapping him on the shoulder.
“Nice seeing you, Vince. Tell Mary I said hello.” Vince looked surprised at the dismissal, but recovered quickly.
“Like hell I will,” Vince said good-naturedly and the two men laughed. He continued down the stairs to the grass where he melted into the crowd sitting on folding chairs near the track.
“He was talking about fixing the race, wasn’t he?” I asked.
“Vince is all right. I’ve known him for years,” Dom said.
“He’s a cop?” I asked skeptically.
“No. I busted him a few times, when I started out on the Bunco squad. Running numbers, fixed dice games, strictly small time stuff. Then he got involved with some big boys out of San Diego. They were placing bets with pay-off money spread across races up and down the coast. The caper went south, and Vince was left holding the bag. By that time, I had moved into Missing Persons, so I didn’t hear about it until he was sent up north. He was smart, did his time right, and he only had to serve three and a half years of his sentence. Vince is all right. And he sure knows his horseflesh.”
“In that case, shouldn’t we change our bet?”
Dom laughed. “Don’t worry. If he thought Arpeggio was a sure thing, he would have put his money down.” Dom took one of the hot dogs and cokes. “I’m more interested in what he might know about the Maynard case.”
“What do you mean?” I asked excitedly.
“Could be nothing. Could be something. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Before I could press him further, the race caller announced the beginning of the third race. The crowd went silent in anticipation.
“Ladies and Gentleman, last call for the third race today at Santa Anita. It’s a fast track today, a slow northwestern breeze and not a cloud in the sky. In gate number one is Manrepeller. Gate two is Bishop’s Folly. Gate three is Poinciana…”
I realized I was biting my lip and my heart was thudding in my chest. My excitement was not just about the race. It was this day, this new life I was leading. Sure, the death of Joyce Maynard was terrible, but in the bright sunshine, the scene in the morgue earlier that morning felt a million miles away. A moment of utter stillness fell over the park. Without realizing it, I was holding my breath. And then – the gun!
“And…they’re off. As they pass the stands it’s Bird in Flight going to the front. Manrepeller is second on the inside. Bishop’s Folly is third. Poinciana is running fourth. Into the first turn, Bird in Flight is in front by one. Manrepeller is second. Bishop’s Folly, then Torchsong is coming up on the inside in fourth. And Poinciana running fifth…”
I twisted my gloves in my hands, the soda and hot dog forgotten in the excitement of the race. Dom was looking through a small pair of binoculars, but the horses were running so fast that to me they looked like a blur flying around the track.
“They’re entering the back stretch; it’s still Bird In Flight in the lead by one. Manrepeller is second, Bishop’s Folly third, and now Poinciana is moving up past Torchsong on the outside, and -- what’s this? Arpeggio who has been in the back of the pack is now diving into contention. At the far turn it’s Bird in Flight in front by two. Poinciana has moved up on the outside to second place, Manrepeller is dropping back, Torchsong is now third, and here comes Arpeggio driving hard on the outside.”
“Come on, Poinciana!” I whooped. Dom craned his neck as the horses turned the corner.
“They’re turning for home. It’s Bird in Flight in front by half a length. Poinciana running easily in second place and gaining and Arpeggio is now third. In the stretch it’s Bird in Flight and Poinciana head to head. And now Poinciana has broken away! But here comes Arpeggio. Poinciana and Arpeggio. It’s Poinciana and Arpeggio. They’re coming down the wire – I don’t believe it! It’s too close to call!”
The crowd went wild as the word “Photo” lit up on the board.
The drive back took longer because of the rush hour traffic. When we reached the first exit for Pasadena, Dom handed me the piece of paper Doris at the DMV had slipped him.
“What’s the address?” he asked.
“5575 Bella Vista Road,” I read.
The street was quiet and tree-lined with oaks and elms rather than the palm trees I had gotten used to after only a few months of living in West Hollywood. Dom slowed down in front of a mock Tudor house. The front windows had brown painted shutters and little panes of glass the size of playing cards and there was a neat privet hedge out front. It looked like something out of a kid’s storybook. We parked around the corner. Dom reached into the glove compartment, and pulled out a pile of cards bound together with a thick rubber band. He shuffled through them quickly, chose a card, and slipped it into his wallet. We walked back to number 5575.
“Keep quiet. I’ll do the talking,” he said to me as we walked up the front walk of grey and red slate embedded in the grass. There was a bat and ball lying in the grass next to a little girl’s china tea set on the front lawn. He rang the doorbell, and a woman in her late twenties, wearing an apron over a simple blue and white gingham dress opened the door. That dress was the only thing plain thing about her. With her platinum blonde hair and widely spaced blue eyes she was a real looker. I could tell that Dom wasn’t expecting such a stunner, but he recovered quickly.
“Mrs. Maude Jameson?” Dom asked with his charming smile. She smiled back and nodded.
“Yes?” she replied breathily, the kind of voice which encouraged you to lean in a little closer to catch every syllable.
“Mrs. Jameson, My name is John Lambert. I’m with the Pacific Orient Insurance Company. I’m the head claims adjustor for our Southwest branches. This is my assistant, Miss Delia Miller.” He shouldn’t have wasted his breath introducing me. This Jameson lady only had eyes for him. “Can we come in?” She looked unsure but stepped aside to let us enter.
“I guess that would be O.K.” She led us into the living room. It was a nice room decorated in pastel colors which were obviously chosen to show off La Jameson’s peaches and cream complexion in its best light. The artwork consisted of a few basic flower water colors and the couch was covered in a large cabbage rose damask print. There was a brand new Zenith television console in the corner which contrasted with some darker pieces of furniture that were obviously older and probably handed down. On the mantle over the brick fireplace there were the obligatory school pictures of her children and one of her in a white dress with a man who was presumably Mr. Jameson. See? I was getting pretty good at this detecting thing. Frankly, she seemed more thrilled when she opened her door and laid eyes on Dom than she did in her wedding photo. “Can I get you something to drink?”
“Just some water, if it’s not too much trouble. It’s been a long drive from Fresno,” he lied easily. Mrs. Jameson disappeared through the dining room and into the kitchen. We heard her running the tap. I looked up and saw a little girl and boy peering at us through the slats of staircase railing.
“Hello,” I said. They giggled and ran up the stairs. Dom frowned at me, but quickly rearranged his features into that charming smile as Mrs. Jameson returned carrying a tray. She put the tray down on the marble topped coffee table. In addition to a glass pitcher filled with ice water, there were homemade ginger snap cookies arranged on a pretty yellow plate. This Jameson broad was a fast worker. She picked up a glass and poured him some water. He took a long appreciative sip.
“Would you like anything, Miss---?” She trailed off, already forgetting me by the time she got to the middle of the thought. Her big baby blues were stuck squarely on Dom.
“Now that you mention it, I wouldn’t mind a stiff --“
Dom cut me off with a warning look. He turned to her and said, “Mrs. Jameson –“ Her small white hand touched him lightly on his arm.
“Cookie?” she asked breathily. He took one but set it down on the napkin on the coffee table. He was ready to get down to business.
“I received the police report that your car, the Ford wagon, had been reported stolen.” He pulled out his small leather notepad, and made a show of flipping through it. “Last Friday, I believe?”
“That’s right. I had just spent the day with the children at my sister’s in Glendora. We got back around five o’clock and I was giving the children a bath, when I thought I heard Bill in the driveway. That’s my husband,” she clarified, fluttering her lashes at Dom. I swallowed to keep down the hot dog I had eaten at the track. This one was a real piece of work. She could be reading the funny pages and it would sound like a come on. “I thought it was strange since he rarely gets home before six o’clock most nights. He works in Burbank. He’s an accountant for Warwick Studios. That’s where we met.”
“You’re an actress,” Dom said admiringly. If possible, the lash flutter became more pronounced. If she wasn’t careful, she was going to sprain an eyelid.
“Just a print model, mostly. I did book one commercial though, for White King Soap. I played the Queen of Hearts. Did you see it? It played a few times during the Kraft Television Theater.”
“I will never buy another brand of detergent,” Dom said, in that way that he had of sidestepping a question with something that wasn’t strictly an answer. “So you thought you heard your husband pull up in the driveway,” he prompted.
“Oh yes. Well, I whisked the kids out of the tub and told Janey to help Billy Jr. put on his pj’s so I could put dinner on. Bill likes to have it on the table when he gets home from work.”
“How nice for Bill, Sr.,” I muttered, but both of them continued to ignore me.
“So, I pulled out the chicken and mixed Bill his drink – scotch and soda – but I realized I never heard him walk in the door. That’s when I looked out the front window here and saw that the station wagon was missing.”
“Is that when you called the police?”
“Well, I called Bill first, of course. I thought he might have lent the car to his brother Dougie. He does that sometimes and forgets to tell me. We keep the extra key under the flowerpot on the porch so Dougie can take it even if I’m not home. But when I asked Bill, he said Dougie was playing a gig out of town.” Dom scribbled in his pad.
“Doug Jameson. He’s a musician?”
“A drummer. Sometimes he uses the station wagon to haul around his kit to different gigs. But like I said, Bill told me it couldn’t be Dougie. He told me to hang up with him and call the police, so I did. Two officers came to take my statement. It was just so upsetting. Things like that just don’t happen in this neighborhood.” Dom made a sympathetic sound. “And that was it, until yesterday morning, when I got a call saying that the car had been found. A different pair of officers drove it over and asked me some questions. I told them the same story I told you.” Dom took a final sip of his water, and stood. La Jameson looked disappointed.
“Thank you Mrs. Jameson. I just needed to corroborate your husband’s claim that he submitted so I can close out the file.”
“Oh, I don’t mind. Things are awfully quiet in this neighborhood. Not that I was happy the car was stolen, mind you,” she amended hastily. “It’s just that things around here can get so…” She trailed off, looking at Dom, doe-eyed, through those long lashes.
“Quiet,” I supplied, not unsympathetically. I’m sure that to a woman like her, used to her fair share of male attention, her white picket life in Pasadena was turning out to be Dullsville to the extreme.
“Yes,” she said, slightly surprised, as if she were noticing me for the first time. Which, I’m sure she was. She didn’t seem the type who would have a lot of women friends. I could just picture the first time she went to a PTA meeting. The other hausfraus would catch load of her and close ranks pretty quickly. She wasn’t the kind of gal other women tended to feel warm and fuzzy about. She walked us to the door.
“Forgot my hat,” Dom said, and before she could offer to get it for him, he went back to the living room and picked it up from the couch. “And my cookie.” He shook her hand, holding it for a moment longer than was strictly necessary. “Thank you for your time, Mrs. Jameson. Sorry we disturbed you.”
“Not at all,” she said. A crash sounded from upstairs, followed by a mournful wail from one of the children. “Oh dear! Janey! What have you done now?” she called up the stairs, closing the door behind us.
I forced myself to match Dom’s unhurried gait as we walked up the block. Once out of sight of the house, Dom picked up the pace.
“Come on,” he said, hopping into the car. I followed and he pulled quickly away from the curb in the opposite direction from the Jameson’s house. I had to admire his choice of parking spot. Even if she craned her head out her window, she would not be able to see the car. And because she didn’t follow us out onto the porch, we had plenty of time to get away. Dom handed me back the card he had given her.
“File it,” he said. Again, I could only admire his quick thinking. Most likely, she wouldn’t remember the name of the company on the card, even if she thought to compare notes with the husband. Seeing how she looked at Dom, I figured the details she would give to her husband would be pretty hazy in the retelling. I slipped the card back in the wallet and closed the glove compartment.
“So that was a dead end,” I said. Dom made a noncommittal sound and bit into the cookie.
“Hey. This is pretty good,” he said. He broke it in two, offering me half. I bit in and was surprised myself.
“Not bad. Usually women who look like that, can’t bake like this.” Dom shrugged. “You don’t think she was pretty?” I demanded.
“Of course she’s pretty. Out here, though? Blue-eyed blondes like that are a dime a dozen. She was lucky to find old Bill. She has a nice house and family. Girls like her, for every one that makes it in show business, a hundred others are chewed up and spit back out.”
“Like Joyce Maynard,” I said quietly. I rested my head back against the leather headrest, suddenly exhausted.
“Adrenaline rush,” Dom commented. “Once the danger of getting found out is passed, you crash. It’s the byproduct of any good flim flam. You did O.K. in there kid, but don’t let it go to your head. Remember - you’re only as good as your last gambit.”