He sniffed; screwed up his face.
‘I think there may be a misunderstanding,’ he said.
‘Untie him,’ he said.
Another person stepped into view. He smiled at me.
Detective Carl Patterson.
Patterson untied my bonds, and I was led into the nearest bathroom to clean up as best I could. I was even given a new set of clothes; Van Grossman had outfits of all shapes and sizes stacked in the guest bedrooms.
I took a long soak to ease my muscles and to recover my senses – my body still throbbed and twitched when I moved - but a nagging thought stayed in my mind.
How did Patterson find me?
When I limped into the lounge, trying not to wince in pain, a sobbing Ginny was being led off by a cop.
Patterson told me.
Le Chef had been shot and killed while resisting arrest, and Lector wasn’t expected to make it. It wasn’t Clarissa who had a thing going with Le Chef, it was Ginny. No wonder I’d been duped, and I was real pissed about not bringing down Le Chef myself – not that I was in any shape to have done much.
I felt cheated, frustrated, and mad - but also uneasy as if a large piece of the picture was missing. My thoughts turned to Van Grossman; I needed answers.
By the time he strolled into the lounge like he was a free man with no cares and troubles and asked us to sit down, Patterson’s squad had departed. When we were settled, he took a deep breath, looked at Patterson, and then back at me.
‘Kid, I owe you an explanation. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time.’
He could say that again. First Linda, then Stern and Janet, then Clarissa and Smokin’ Joe – and I’d been drugged, thrown in jail, drugged again, beaten black and blue, tortured, and still had a twenty-year rap hanging over me.
I needed an explanation all right…
Van Grossman was addressing his audience. ‘Blackmail,’ he said, ‘changes men.
Honest, decent citizens become greedy … they always want more. I have been the victim of such a crime … or should I say, I still am.’ He turned to stare at Patterson. ‘Do you hate gays that much? But you weren’t smart enough, Carl. The kid has the evidence that will send you down. God rest your soul.’
I sat up in my chair like I’d been shot. ‘What!’
Patterson’s neck turned red. He mopped his brow. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
Van Grossman laughed. ‘You think I’m stupid. I’ll lay odds that my payments found their way into your bank account.’
I felt like a fly on the wall, watching two heavyweights slugging it out.
‘There’s no trail…’
‘Oh, but there is. Linda told Stern all about you, before you had them both bumped off.
She was totally loyal to me … She would never blackmail me. I knew everything.’
Patterson was sweating. ‘It’s all conjecture. It’ll never stick.’
‘We’ll see. Now that your puppet, Le Chef, is dead … how very convenient for you to tie up loose ends … but Carl, I’m going to see it that you go down.’
I saw muscles tighten in Patterson’s neck. He drew his .45 and stood up.
‘You misplayed your hand, Robert. Le Chef can’t indict me, and I could get rid of two more loose ends … easy.’
‘I don’t think so. Go on ... shoot me … and the kid. I’m sure you can concoct a satisfactory ending.’
I saw Patterson hesitate. If Van Grossman was bluffing, he was one hell of a poker player. Van Grossman seemed to feint with the right; pointed a finger at a nearby TV monitor. ‘Press a button … any button.’
Patterson edged closer and hit one. The screen came to life. I could see three uniformed men sitting under a LA Hollywood police department sign.
‘Did you copy?’ asked Van Grossman.
Uppercut with the left.
‘Loud and clear,’ said one. ‘Put down your gun, Detective.’
Patterson snarled, smashed his .45 through the screen, but before he could remove his hand from the broken glass, Van Grossman was on top of him.
For a fat man, he was quick on his feet.
They grappled with the gun, and I saw it being knocked out on the floor, near me. I ignored the pain; reached out, picked it up, and cracked it over Patterson’s head.
Patterson slumped. I handcuffed him, tossed the gun at Van Grossman. All my pent-up feelings spilled out in rage.
I spat it out. ‘MOTHERFUCKER. Just a Hollywood movie for you, but it was HELL FOR ME.’
On my knees, I rooted around Patterson’s pockets and found my cell phone.
I called Jameson.