The pounding on the door rattled me awake. Just as well. I was having another shitty dream about bad times on some worthless hunk of coral and sand in the Pacific. I crawled out of my rollaway rack as another sortie boomed like incoming mortars. “C’mon, Dinger, I know you’re in there. Open the damn door before I knock it down.”
Ah, that delightful voice. I’d recognize it anywhere. Detective Cal Kroeger, Las Vegas PD. Sometime cohort, sometime nemesis, full time pain in my ass. I flipped on the light, unlocked the door and swung it open. Kroeger’s bulky frame filled the doorway. Another suit I didn’t recognize stood behind him, almost lost in Kroeger’s broad shadow. “It’s five-thirty a.m. Kroeg, this better be damn good.”
The lieutenant brushed me aside as he entered my office and abode uninvited. The lanky suit followed his boss. Kroeger perched on the uncluttered corner of my desk, while his partner chose the less ratty of the two chairs in front. I stood there in my skivvies with my arms crossed and said, “You gentlemen come on in and have a seat.”
Kroeger snorted as he reached into a shirt pocket and grabbed a White Owl cigar. Nothing but class for Detective Kroeger. “Cut the standup routine and get dressed, Dinger. We got a little business to attend to downtown.”
“Who’s the sidekick? I said, standing my ground.
Kroeger took a quick glance to his left, like he’d forgotten he’d brought company. Turning back to me he said, “Detective Bill Riggins. He’s new. Fresh outta Dallas. That’s in Texas, in case you don’t know your geography.
“Riggins, meet Dinger, private eye. Dinger, meet—”
“I got the name, Kroeg.” I took a few steps and extended my hand. Riggins stood and shook it. He was a couple inches taller than me, making him six-two in shoes. But he was so damn skinny I wondered if a stiff Texas wind had saved him travel pay and blown him to Vegas. A shock of red hair and a pale face splattered with freckles made the young man look more like a school crossing guard than a Vegas PD detective. I let go and faced Kroeger. “So tell me, what the hell’s with beating down my door at this ungodly hour?”
A haughty smirk crept across the detective’s mug. “Like I said, we got business at the station, so get your ass dressed or I’ll haul you in butt naked and add public nudity to the charges.”
* * *
I sat at the table sipping a fourth cup of the PD’s bitter joe with a recorder winding away the minutes and yards of tape that had so far caught nothing but an hour’s worth of back and forth bullshit. Kroeger stopped pacing, faced me with both hands placed on his wide hips. The kid detective, Riggins, followed suit. I clamped my mouth shut to keep from laughing at Red’s copycat antics.
“C’mon, Dinger. We got a eye witness that swears he seen you breaking into the room at the Sands where we found Bernie Bonomo’s carcass. We also know you and that showgirl, Sara Levitz, had the hots for each other. You still denying you snuffed Bones for killing your girl? What the hell you take us for, Dinger, stupid?”
I pushed back in the chair and propped my feet on the table. After another sip of the foul brew I said, “You said it, Kroeg, not me.”
The detective’s face grew a deeper shade of red. He resumed his stomping back and forth across the room. I could almost see the steam rising out of his ears. His protégé Riggins fell in step behind him. “Goddamn it, Dinger, just admit you been caught with your hand in the cookie jar. Bonomo was a worthless turd who needed killing. You did a lot of people a favor by getting rid of the bastard. We got a dozen people ready to back that up in court. You admit to what you did, I swear you’ll be out of the slammer in two years, tops. I can guarantee it.”
I stood up and for show pounded the table hard with my fist. “Bullshit, Kroeger! You want me to take the rap for something I didn’t do? Yeah, I wish I would’ve whacked that worthless wop son of a bitch, but I didn’t. I was nowhere near the Sands that night. Now, you either charge me or let me the fuck go! I need my beauty sleep.”
After a long moment the red-faced Kroeger regained his composure. He and Riggins huddled up in the far corner of the room, sharing whispers, nods, and an occasional despising glance in my general direction. About five minutes later the two detectives broke their huddle. Red Riggins took a seat at the far end of the table opposite me. Kroeger placed hands on hips again and slowly made his way from the corner until he was facing me directly across the table.
“You keep an eye . . . make that both eyes, on the suspect. I’ll be back shortly with a little surprise that just might loosen up a certain non-compliant’s tongue. Understand?”
Riggins turned and made eye contact with me. “Yes, sir, I read you loud and clear.” Again I clamped my jaws to keep from laughing out loud. I’d heard more realistic copper talk from reading old Dick Tracy comics than this good cop-bad cop crap. Kroeger left the room. A couple times Detective Red tried to practice his wares on me. I shut him up by clamming up, and waited for the boss man to return with his big surprise.
About a half hour passed before the door swung open. Kroeger gently shoved a disheveled looking kid into the room and closed the door behind him.
“Recognize this gentleman, Dinger?” Kroeg said with a forced half grin working its way across his fat lips.
I eyeballed the “gentleman” Kroeger had pulled out of some Vegas gutter. Yeah, I recognized him. Jimmy Canberra, or “Jimmy C,” as he was known on the streets. Shyster, petty thief, punk, drunkard, druggie—take your pick. He topped the tape at five foot seven with his ragged-out boots on. The black shirt and trousers he wore hadn’t seen the inside of a washing machine since Moses parted the Red Sea. His greasy hair crept over his ears and shirt collar, and his scraggly beard did little to hide the sunken eyes and cheeks. And his brain was as fried as a plateful of leathery eggs. Yeah, Jimmy C was one squared away individual all right. This was Kroeger’s ace in the hole?
“Mr. Canberra,” Kroeger said, “is this the man you saw breaking into Bernard Bonomo’s room at the Desert Sands on the night in question?”
Jimmy C stepped forward a couple feet and squinted for effect. From across the table he reeked like he’d spent the last month sleeping in some trash bin, which he might very well have. He looked me over for a few seconds and then danced back like he had ants in his pants. “Yeah, that’s the one. I’d swear it on my poor mama’s grave. It’s him alright. Yes sir, that’s the one I seen.” Jimmy C grinned, showing about half a mouthful of yellow teeth. “No mistake about it, Detective, that’s your man.”
I stood up, put my balled fists on the table and leaned forward, staring the lying punk in the eye. “Yeah, and just where the hell were you when you saw me break into Bonomo’s room, as you claim?”
Jimmy C backed up a couple more feet and glanced at Kroeger. His shit was shook, and I figured him to piss his pants any minute now. Kroeger placed a reassuring hand on the lying punk’s shoulder and said, “Tell him exactly what you told me, Mr. Canberra.”
Kroeg’s encouragement seemed to pump some juice into Jimmy C’s cajones. “Yeah . . . yeah, I was with this dame, you see. A showgirl, works at the Sands. Me and her was having us a little fun between shows in my car. We was parked a couple of rows back of Mr. Dinger’s car, that black Ford Coupe he drives. After a while he gets out and walks to the room. We seen him fiddle with the lock and then go inside. A few minutes later he comes back out to his car and drives off. Yes sir, we seen him go in Mr. Bonomo’s room and come out and get back in his Ford Coupe and drive away. That’s the truth and I’ll swear to it.”
I was beyond pissed that Detective Cal Kroeger, LVPD, would even consider using this scumbag’s “eye witness testimony” to hang Bernie “Bones” Bonomo’s murder on me. I locked eyes with the burly detective and said, “Kroeger, we’ve known each other for what, three-four years now? And we’ve always been square with each other, until now. You’re willing to use this gutter bum’s testimony to hang Bernie Bones’ murder on me? Okay, I’m asking you a favor. You owe me that much. You give me five minutes alone with Jimmy C so we can discuss what he thinks he saw that night. Five minutes. And you’ve got my word I won’t lay so much as a finger on your ‘gentleman’ witness. Deal?”
Kroeger frowned and turned red in the face, but finally the two suits adjourned to the far corner of the room for a whispered powwow. A couple minutes later Kroeger ambled over and said, “Okay Dinger, five minutes, starting now.” He glanced at his watch. “And if you so much as lay a hand on Mr. Canberra, I’ll bust your ass for assault as well as the murder of Bernard Bonomo.”
A half hour later Kroeger pulled his unmarked car to a stop in front of my office and home sweet home. As I climbed out and slammed the door he called to me. “Dinger, how the hell did you get Jimmy C to recant his story? The creep had me sold on what he claimed he saw.”
I rested my arms on the car door and leaned down to face him. “Nothing much, Kroeg. We just had a little heart-to-heart about how the eyes can play tricks on you sometimes, especially when you’re nailing a beautiful dame between shows. You know how it is.”
The burly detective didn’t say anything. He just shook his head, slipped the transmission into gear, and drove away. I unlocked my home/office, pulled the shades down, kicked off my shoes and crawled into the rack. I’d deal with the photos I had of Jimmy C, drug mule extraordinaire, later.