GANGSTERS AND HARD CASES

37 MAL GRAINGER

711 Ocean Drive, 1950, USA, Director Joseph M Newman

Mal always had a plan.  He even had a plan for little old me, Gail Mason.   The first time Mal looked at me something registered in his eyes.   No doubt desire was in there but you could see right from the beginning, even before Mal held you in his arms, that he was making a plan, calculating the next steps.  That was why Mal Grainger liked money so much, why he took it so seriously.  Money gave his brain something to count.  Trudy Maxwell was the accountant that Mal used to help him run his wire service.  I liked Trudy and for a while I felt bad about her because I thought Mal had thrown Trudy over for me.  But then I met Trudy and realised she was the one that had said farewell to Mal.   But for a while Mal played around with Trudy, and she will tell you the same as me.  The first time he looked into her eyes she knew he had a plan and it made her curious.  Some men are like that, somehow you believe what is behind their eyes.  Mal didn’t have the prettiest eyes.  He wasn’t what I would call handsome.  You know what I was thinking when we were trying to escape from the police across the Boulder Dam?  Why am I doing all this with a guy that I know will go fat and isn’t even handsome?  The truth is that Mal Grainger had eyes that made promises.

Darling, there is not a man I’ve known that at some point I wished I hadn’t met.   If I’d been different, had a less affluent family, perhaps I’d have met some decent man with not that much money in his pocket but a heart of gold.  But I grew up surrounded by money and the men responsible for that money.  The only advice I had came from wives that had rich husbands.  In that world you don’t have as many options as people think.  Lieutenant, you need to interrupt more.  I’m beginning to sound as if I feel sorry for myself.  

Maybe that was why I indulged Mal.  Alright, why I found him attractive.   He looked like someone whose eyes couldn’t lie.   And the truth is that most of the time his eyes didn’t although Mal did string me along for a while after he had Larry killed.  Larry was my husband, and, if I was not sitting here facing two detectives because of that plan Mal had, I would say Larry was the biggest mistake in my life.  I did lose some enthusiasm for Mal after Larry was killed but Larry had raised his fists to me.   I know that seeing me bruised and lying in a hospital bed had upset Mal although I was also aware that Mal was sore about the money the syndicate was skimming off the wire service that he operated.  And by then we needed one another.  I told myself that if we could get away from Los Angeles and Vegas it would be different.  The problem was that Mal came up with a plan to take back some of the money the syndicate had robbed from his wire service.  The truth is Mal Grainger died because he had one plan too many although we must not forget the contribution of our fine trigger happy policemen.  

We already had two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and that was enough for any pair of sweethearts to start a new life, even if one of those sweethearts had my background.  I told Mal that in Guatemala, which was where Mal decided we should live, we could live on that kind of money forever.  Chippie, who was this sweet little man who brought Mal into the wire service, said the same.  Mal thought differently.  What happened to Chippie.  The syndicate is what happened to Chippie.  No one sees Chippie around anymore because he isn’t around.  I’m afraid, darling, it’s as simple as that.

The syndicate is what happened to us all.  Carl Stephans was as smooth and as sinister as the men I knew back home.  No, dear, his name is not Carl Stephens.  It’s Stephans.  His parents were South African but Carl sounded more English than anything.  He claimed he was connected to really important people back in South Africa which was probably why he sounded so English.  Charming or not, Carl Stephans had people killed.  I can’t say I heard him say murder this man or that man.  I do know certain people disappeared.  Perhaps I could identify some faces from your files.  I’ve always been good with faces.  Not so good with eyes but good with faces. 

I’m afraid, dear, that I don’t know much but I do know that Stephans took over the business that Mal ran.  Carl already had a business that stretched from back east to Kansas but he wanted to run a coast to coast wire service.  Lieutenant, none of these men can be criticised for a lack of ambition.  Indeed, Carl Stephans had a really big plan.  That’s the problem with men.  Too many men have plans but, darling, I wouldn’t like a man without one.  

Not all the syndicate men had the best table manners but I am glad to say that, whatever faults Larry had, he didn’t embarrass you at the dinner table.  Larry did struggle with sentences which was why he could be dull company.  Carl Stephans was different.   He had an opinion about everything and he was charming.  I’m sorry, darling.  Is this boring you?  I am cooperating.  Of course I’ve realised I aided and abetted a murderer but I didn’t know that at the time.  I’m truly sorry Mal set up the trick with the phones to deceive you, Lieutenant.  I didn’t know his plan was to convince you that he wasn’t here in LA and he was making his call from Palm Springs. And I had no idea that Mal had committed a murder.  I just assumed he was in trouble over the wire service.  He was the man in my life, and I helped him.  I didn’t even know what I was doing.  I put two telephones next to an amplifier.  It was all too technical for me, dear.   No, I haven’t been talking to my lawyer.  I am cooperating.  Being cooperative is in my nature. 

You mean in the sense that sweet Trudy worked, perform tasks and have a boss that pays you a salary?  No, women from families like mine don’t do that kind of thing.  I collect rich men and drink more than I should.  No, I’m not proud of myself.  Men or money, I’m not sure who or which makes the biggest promises or tells the biggest lies.  I never told lies to Mal and I doubt Trudy did either.  Mal was lucky that way because there are plenty of men and women out there telling lies to each other every day.  Mal was unlucky because he believed money could solve all your troubles.  Chippie knew Mal when he worked for the telephone company.   Chippie said Mal was likeable back then.  Mal used to give some of his money to the guys who had families to raise.  Not much but something.   Chippie said that Mal never took a full wage packet home.  When I heard the story I thought how sweet.  But even back then Mal thought the solution to everything was money.   Once the wire service was making huge profits Mal became mean with his money.  Trudy warned him but Mal had to raise the price of his wire service.  Some of the bookmakers that used his wire service went bankrupt but that was of no concern to Mal.  That was the point when I should have walked away from Mal but I didn’t.  There was an exception, this deaf and dumb guy that once fixed one of his cars.  Mal lent him a couple of thousand so that the deaf and dumb guy could set up a business and work with honest people for a change.  I heard the deaf and dumb guy went back home to north of Sacramento somewhere and he set up a garage in the mountains. 

To be honest what happens with the wire service baffles me.  Of course, darling, I know how it operates.  The company running the wire service owns the equipment that delivers the results to the bookmakers and sends it over the wire quick enough to stop punters that know the winners putting bets on before the bookies have received the result.  But even though Mal explained it all to me, stuff about transmitters, telephones and the rest, I still don’t know what equipment they used and how it works.  But what baffled me more was how people like Mal and Carl Stephans made so much money from just running a wire service.   There are that many bookmakers in California?  I didn’t know that.  Carl, of course, had the coast to coast operation.  He was really rich.  Mal said that the wire service was legitimate, that there was nothing illegal about passing information on from the racetracks.  It doesn’t seem right, something legal being run by gangsters.  Yes, of course, there is the money.  It explains so much, doesn’t it, darling?  But if the wire service is an honest business, why haven’t honest businessmen come along and provided an alternative wire service?  Lieutenant, I understand people like Carl Stephans know how to intimidate competitors but there are ruthless men running rich and powerful companies in this country.   I suppose you’re right.  These people do talk to one another and they will concoct their plans.  Meanwhile the poor scrimp and scheme.  And call me stupid but if people can bet at the race tracks why not let them bet with a bookmaker?  What’s the difference?  No, I don’t suppose that will ever happen.   Ah, my lawyer has arrived.  Thank you, Lieutenant, thank you for opening the door.  A lady likes a courteous man.   Who are those two old people waiting by the desk?  They haven’t done anything wrong, I hope.  They are the parents of Mal.   Oh dear, I didn’t expect that they would look so poor.

Howard Jackson has had ten books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism.  His latest book Go Break Bad is now available here.