By H. P. Oliver
2020 HPO Productions
All Rights Reserved
0700 Hours - Saturday - 5 June 43
Cecil Hotel - Downtown, Los Angeles
After eating a fairly respectable western Omelet, we packed up, checked out of our rooms, and recovered the Army's Buick from the Cecil Hotel's parking lot. At my request, Sergeant Baxter pointed it back to East LA.
"May I ask why we're going back to the scene of the crime, Sir?"
"I'm not entirely sure, Sergeant. Maybe just to look around."
Detecting disdain tone in his response, I said, "Sergeant, I'm going to enlighten you on some of the finer points of detecting stuff, which is essentially what my job is all about."
"The key word here is 'instinct.' A highly developed instinct is the quality that separates the good detectives from the great detectives. Now, I'm not claiming to be a great detective, but I've been in this business long enough that I couldn't help picking up some helpful skills along the way. One of those skills is an instinct for knowing where to look next when you've run out of logical places to look next. Another of those skills is learning to trust that instinct and follow my hunches."
"Forgive my saying so, but that's not a very scientific approach to crime solving."
"I rather thought you'd say something like that, and doing so puts you in the Colonel Beecher category of officer, or future officer."
"There's no need to get nasty about it, Sir."
"I'm not being nasty, Sergeant, I'm making a point. The opposite of an officer in the Beecher category is an officer in the General Davis category. He doesn't necessarily have a highly developed instinct, himself, but he firmly believes in the instincts of those who work for him since he chose many of them because they demonstrated those instincts in their work. That, Sergeant, is the only reason I'm here instead of ground pounding in Europe or on shark patrol on some godforsaken Pacific atoll. Over the years, Davis' most frequent order to me has been, 'Spicer, trust your instinct and go get the job done.' Do you understand that, Sergeant?"
"No, Sir I don't understand it, but I believe it. I have to. Your record proves it's true."
"What do you know about my record, Sergeant?"
"Well, Sir, when I knew I was going to become your ADC, I did some checking to anticipate what you were like. Most of your assignment records are classified requiring Need-To-Know clearance, but reading between the lines, it seems you are very good at what you do, Sir."
"Yup, Baxter, you definitely belong in the Beecher category, but don't let that get you down. The Army needs desk jockeys, too."
Sergeant Baxter glared at me and I glared right back at him. Then, looking out the window, I saw we were entering East LA. I said, "Turn left at the next opportunity."
Our course change put us on a north-south side street called Kern Avenue. Halfway into the first block, our surroundings transitioned from commercial to residential.
The houses looked to be typical southern California bungalows dating back to the 1920s. What wasn't typical for southern California was each house was separated from its neighbors and the street by chain link fences. The next most common qualities shared by these homes were peeling paint, boarded windows, and screen doors with bars rather than screens. A few of the homes still boasted well-maintained yards, but the majority were growing weeds instead of lawns and flowers.
We were looking at a dying neighborhood. The homes were originally built to provide economical housing, and despite their low prices, I could imagine this being a pleasant low-income neighborhood. That was in the past, though. We looked at block after block of homes, and they all told the same sad story of decline.
Sounding a little nervous, Sergeant Baxter said, "Major, we've picked up a tail. The sedan behind us has been following us for the last few turns."
I glanced into the side-view mirror on my side and saw what Baxter was talking about. A beat up five or six year old Ford sedan with a layer of rust around the edges was following along about five car-lengths back. "So I see. Turn left at the next street."
Baxter made the turn and the jalopy behind us followed right along. "All right, Sergeant left again at the next street. It should be Arizona, which is a four-lane artery."
I was not particularly concerned. We had a big horsepower advantage over the Ford and a lot of sheet metal around us for protection. What bothered me was having to drive the Buick by proxy. If you're getting the idea I don't have much faith in my ADC, you are right on the beam.
The rusty Ford followed us onto Arizona and I said, "Okay, Whittier Boulevard should be two long blocks ahead of us. Turn right when we get there."
For the fourth time, the Ford in our mirrors tagged right along behind us. On Whittier Boulevard I said, "Open it up, Sergeant. Put some distance between us and let's see how committed this fellow is."
Baxter did as I ordered, but only barely. "Come on, Sergeant, put your foot in it."
"I am, Sir. Besides, this guy isn't going to do anything to us. It's broad daylight, for crying out loud."
"Don't argue with me, Sergeant, do as you are ordered. Whittier angles to the left up here in a block and we'll be passing through a cemetery. That's where he'll make his move if he's going to make one. Now, get going."
Baxter added another few miles to our speed, but a look in the passenger-side side view mirror showed the Ford closing the distance between us. Then we were surrounded by grass and graves on both sides of the road.
The Ford's muffler was shot and I could hear the engine winding up behind us. Now we were in for it. I unholstered my Smith & Wesson. Baxter finally put his foot down on the gas, but it was too late. Our Buick could easily outrun the Ford, but the heavy sedan took its time getting up to speed.
I turned and looked out through the driver-side rear window. Sure enough the Ford was pulling alongside. "Sergeant, get ready to stand on the brakes hard."
"The brakes? If I do that, they'll catch us for sure."
"Baxter, they've already caught us and if you don't hit those brakes when I say, I will shoot you dead."
Sweat was accumulating on the Sergeant's forehead. Through the window beyond him I could see the Ford's radiator grille steadily moving past. "Now! Brakes! Hard!"
I don't know who he was more scared of, me or the car full of Mexicans, but Baxter finally followed my order. The Buick's tires squealed like a stuck pig and the Ford roared past. Beyond Baxter I clearly saw a large revolver in the hand of the fellow in the Ford's passenger seat.
Reaching across the Buick's front seat, I grabbed the wheel and jerked it left. By this time the Buick was nearly stopped, so turning the wheel only angled us to the left rather than sending the car into a spin or slide. That was all I needed.
I aimed my thirty-eight through the Buick's open passenger side window. The Ford's brakes were in bad shape and the panic stop the driver tried caused the jalopy's front end to pull right. The guy in the Ford's passenger seat was now looking right down the barrel of my pistol from a distance of about twenty-five feet. Shifting my aim slightly, I squeezed the trigger.
My aim was dead on for a change. The big slug sailed right past the passenger and blew most of the Ford's windshield out. I figured that would accomplish my objective, and it did. The Ford roared away.
I looked at Sergeant Baxter. He was pale as a ghost. "Sergeant, get out."
With the smoking Smith & Wesson still in my hand, I said, "Now, damn it!"
Baxter hopped to it. As he got out, I said, "Get in the passenger seat and do it fast before I decide to leave you right here in this marble orchard with the rest of the folks who are dead from the butt in both directions."
I slid over and took off almost before Baxter had the passenger door closed. When he got it shut, the Sergeant said, "I'm sorry, Sir, I . . . ."
"Shut up, Sergeant I don't want to hear anything you've got to say. Your failure to follow orders damn near got me killed. That only happens once."
For the next hour and some change we rode in silence as I kept the Buick heading west, mostly on Santa Barbara Avenue. During that hour we covered the twenty-some miles between East Los Angeles and Mines Field, LA's municipal airport.
I drove directly to what is commonly referred to as the Mines Field Military Hangar. Pulling up outside the entrance, I said, "Sergeant Baxter, your orders are to get your butt back to the Presidio by whatever means are available to you. When you get there, report to Colonel Beecher. I'll be calling him shortly to tell him I just fired you as my ADC."
"I'm not sure you can do that, Sir."
"Don't bet on it, Baxter, but if I can't, I'll just shoot your sorry butt the next time I lay eyes on you. Get going."
Without another word, the Sergeant climbed out of the Buick. I waited for him to get his duffle out of the trunk, and then I took off. I could see him standing there watching me drive away. He would make a swell officer.