SERGEANT JOE TEAGUE
Mob City, 2013, USA, Directors Frank Darabont, Guy Ferland
I have not always looked like a lawyer. Back in the ’40s I had a lot more hair and my suits had something decent to hang on. Damned right I remember Joe Teague. I heard about his death the day after it happened. Joe died in his bed. I am pleased for him and I like to think that I played my part in his gentle ending. Jasmine phoned me with the news. She said they had settled down in this small town north of LA, a place called Bridgeport. Joe bought this garage off some deaf and dumb guy. The owner of the garage before the deaf and dumb guy was this private eye who had been killed in a police roadblock. Listening to Jasmine, I had this fear that Joe had walked into trouble yet again. But, according to Jasmine, life was quiet in Bridgeport. The two of them settled and had a couple of kids. Joe would take the kids up to the lakes and the mountains. At some point Jasmine and Joe took tourists out on the hiking trails around there. I had to ask about how they managed for money. It is my nature. They were comfortable, said Jasmine.
There was a time when Joe and me were like brothers. Detective Joe Teague not only stopped more than one interested Japanese soldier from sharing my last breath, Joe changed the way I thought about animals. This might not make sense. Joe returned home from the war a wild creature, a two-fisted and trigger ready brute. We all changed out there. Joe Teague was the kind of man that had to look out for people. Without him I would be dead and so would the rest of our troop. War and that kind of responsibility will do something to a man and especially one who was good with his fists. And those memories are now why I have a soft spot for animals. Even the savage creatures have a soul. Sensitivity is not the exclusive property of the gentle. When Joe hits people, they stay on the floor for some time afterwards. But he had a heart, and it responded to other people. At some point when he was fighting for the flag and country that heart began to bleed. It bled inside him for the rest of his life. Bleeding or not he lived a lot longer than I thought he might.
My old boss Mickey Cohen had something in common with Joe Teague which is odd considering Mickey was in the Mob and Joe worked for LAPD. Mickey was hot tempered but he had a heart. He liked people and wanted to be liked but enemies for Mickey were not people. And what Mickey did to his enemies I do not like to remember. Joe may have been good with his fists but all he was interested in was Jasmine and being left alone. Mickey wanted money and celebrity. Mix brutality and excess ambition and the bubbling coloured froth that comes out of the top of the chemical jar is pure distilled sadism. Hearts are not everything. Joe was a different kind of man to Mickey.
Jasmine Fontaine was a handsome woman. Fontaine was the name she used when I knew her. She reminded me of Lauren Bacall, prettier if anything. When the war ended, Joe was a troubled man. I do not sleep that well myself but Joe had serious nightmares. He would wake up and think a Japanese had jumped in his foxhole. That started in the war. What Jasmine thought was an affectionate snuggle in the middle of the night Joe mistook for murderous intent. Joe was always quick to react. Jasmine was hurt a couple of times and even on the good nights she was missing sleep. Joe and Jasmine split and lived separate lives the rest of the time they were in LA. This was bad news for both Joe and Jasmine. Joe became a bear with a sore head, and Jasmine went out to earn a living taking pictures. She hooked up with low life Heckey Nash. The low life was working as a comic in some strip joint and on the lookout for extra cash.
Everyone knew that Bugsy Seigel killed Abe Greenberg. Jasmine, though, had photographs of what happened. Do not ask me how Jasmine and Heckey were at the scene but they were. Heckey Nash decides to ask Seigel for $50,000 in exchange for the pictures. The cash we arrange to hand over to Nash but the arrangements are complicated. Bugsy wants to be sure the pictures are authentic, and Nash wants to stay alive. Nash asks Joe Teague to attend as protection. The money is paid to Nash but Joe decides it would be best for all if he shoots Nash. This he does, and to the surprise of Ned Hoffman, who was there on behalf of Bugsy, Joe returns the money. I know all this because afterwards it was my job to speak to Joe and offer him work with my employers. Joe said no. This baffled Bugsy and Cohen. I was surprised myself. The war left me what some people call philosophical. Those people paid top dollar, and I thought what the hell. Not everything that is illegal is criminal, I told myself. The problem is competition in illegal activities leads to criminal behaviour. You know the kind of thing, murder and torture. One of the advantages of being a lawyer is that you can be ambitious without being competitive.
I understood right away why Joe had killed Hecky Nash. This particular puzzle had a one word answer, Jasmine Fontaine. Joe Teague was not the man to beat you to the end of a crossword but he had an instinct for survival. Joe reckoned that Bugsy would not only be sore about losing $50,000 but Bugsy would also have had Nash and Jasmine killed. Emotionally for him it would have been complicated but that would have been the reasoning of Sergeant Joe Teague.
I have a theory about Joe Teague, Jasmine and Bugsy Seigel. While Joe Teague was alive I would not have shared this with anyone. But now Bugsy, Ginny, Mickey and Joe are all dead. And Jasmine has outlived them all which for a while back in LA in 1947 was far from likely. I put my theory to Joe Teague, and he did not tell me I was mistaken. What he said was nothing but I knew. Hecky Nash was a nobody but it was his wild over-estimation of his ability that led to the death of Bugsy Siegel. Nash had a partner in his deal to blackmail Bugsy. Iddo Goldberg was low-life like Nash. Thanks to Joe the $50,000 which Nash and Goldberg had assumed would at least let them live rent free for a few years was now heading towards Vegas and The Flamingo investment fund. Hecky was dead but rather than be relieved at being alive Iddo was disgruntled. Iddo felt that he was owed the money by Jasmine and he threatened to kill her unless she found $50,000. Her only option was to go to Mickey Cohen and tell him about the extra set of prints she had and ask for $50,000 for the photos, the market value of which had already been established with Hecky. Another swap was arranged, this time in Union, our train station here in LA. Jasmine headed to the locker where she had stored the extra prints. But Joe had heard about the swap. He was waiting. He had the prints and had also brought along a few policemen for support. Joe handed over the prints and let Bugsy’s men take home the $50,000. The police presence prevented a shooting. Joe put Jasmine on a train and told her to travel a long way from LA.
It should have ended there. But Bugsy, who was under pressure himself at the time because of what was happening in Vegas and wanted vengeance. Bugsy and friends found Joe and gave him a beating and made it clear that Jasmine was now a target. Jasmine may have been out of LA but Joe decided that there was only one way Jasmine would be safe. The night of his beating Joe took a shotgun, went to where Bugsy lived, stood outside the window and put nine bullets inside Bugsy. I think a couple of bullets landed in the furniture. I said nothing but I knew as soon as Joe walked into the room. Bugsy lay dead on the sofa, and one of his eyes was stuck to the carpet. Joe was like a brother to me. If anyone should know when he is pretending to be shocked, it is me. The police, the press, the public, everyone except me, assumed that Siegel had been killed on the orders of the Syndicate. No doubt they were thinking about it because Bugsy had put six million of Syndicate money into the hotel. But Joe was one step ahead of them. And there he is, lying in his grave and wondering just how he managed to die in his bed. And if he is not wondering, well he should be. I said nothing to Jasmine as she told me the news. I just listened. She said she loved Joe, and I said so did I which was true. But I could have said that they owed their lives to me and perhaps I was owed. Such thoughts pass through my head. I remember debts. It is my nature. But there was no way Sergeant Joe Teague owed me anything. We were like brothers, and he did once save my life. Bill Parker is rumoured to be going to the funeral. Imagine the one time head of LAPD mourning the guy that killed Bugsy Siegel. But then Parker never did find the Black Dahlia killer and that did him no harm either.
Howard Jackson has had ten books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest travel book No Tall Heels To Tango is now available here.