The little outdoor cafe was brightly lit by the afternoon sun. A pitcher of lemonade sat on a small table shedding dime sized beads of condensation on the white table cloth below. Two men sat across from each other in matching rattan chairs. One man, a short overweight fellow, leaned forward, nervously blotting sweat from his balding pate. The other man, tall and lean, sat reclined, idly fanning himself with his tan fedora.
“You see Mr. Towne. We have a real problem with this guy. It’s to the point that Ms. Page doesn’t feel safe in public.” The fat man said.
The tall man sat up and carefully placed his fedora on his perfectly combed hair. “Let me see if I understand you clearly Mr. Klause. You publish kinky pictures of dames all done up in ropes and leather and such. Your customers are a bunch of perverts and you’re surprised that one of them has the hots for your most famous model?”
“It’s not like that Mr. Towne. Sure we get all types, writing letters sayin they’re in love with Bettie, or that they have left their wives for her, but none of those pukes ever tried to get their filthy mitts on her. Until now. This guy’s a real nut job. He grabbed her and tried to put her in the trunk of his car for Christ’s sake! I would’ve beat the bastard myself if he hadn’t run off before I could get to him. Mr. Klause wiped his brow and poured a glass of lemonade with a shaky hand.
“What about the police? Can’t you get a restraining order or something?” The tall man asked.
“Mr. Towne, I’m proud of the business that me and my wife have built over the years. There is a real art to this kind of photography, but unfortunately society at large doesn’t see it that way. What we do isn’t illegal, but let’s just say it’s discouraged. The police are just looking for a reason to shut us down. That’s why I called you. You have a reputation for fixing things discreetly.”
“I don’t know how things work out on the East Coast Mr. Klause, but my fee is two thousand, half up front and the rest when your problem is solved. When would you like me to start?”
“We’re only out here in LA for another couple of weeks, then we head back home. These beach shots sell like hot cakes, and we can’t afford any more disruptions. Ms. Page is scheduled for a shoot tomorrow down at Venice beach; just some clean bikini stuff. Look, I can’t thank you enough for your help Mr. Towne.” The fat man pulled an envelope from his pocket and the two men stood and shook hands.
Charlie Towne sat in his 46 Ford convertible and checked his watch. Klause had given him a decent description of the perv and after asking around he got a likely address. The place was a rundown Victorian on Bunker Hill. The city had started clearing out the flop houses at the beginning of the year, but hadn’t made it to this block yet. The row of dilapidated houses stood out like a strip of tall grass in a freshly mowed yard. It wouldn’t be long before this whole area was a parking lot or something.
There hadn’t been much traffic all morning, just some beatniks and an elderly man, so Towne kept himself busy winding a bag of cheap watches he had in the glove box. He had won them off a buddy of his, a private detective named Jake, in a poker game and hadn’t found a good use for them yet. Jake had been neck deep in a case involving a philandering police chief and was off his game. It was easy pickings.
The sun reached its zenith, and the ratty palm trees sagged in the hot, still air. Charlie saw the perv finally leave the Victorian and set out on foot down Hill Street. He fired up the dark blue Ford and slowly followed the guy for three blocks until he ducked into a battered old warehouse. Charlie parked across the street and casually walked over to get a better look.
The warehouse door wasn’t locked so Charlie quietly let himself in. The inside was lit by a single dingy bulb hanging down from the ceiling. The place was empty except for rows of boxes filled with auto parts of every description. The smell of engine oil and tire rubber hung thick in the hot dusty air. Charlie caught a quick glimpse of the perv as he ducked down in the back corner behind a stack of radiators.
Charlie worked his way between crates toward the back of the warehouse, and heard a loud scraping sound like metal being dragged across the concrete floor. He reached the back just as the perv disappeared behind a hidden door made of a piece of corrugated steel on two hinges. A light came on behind the sheet metal, projecting a thin yellow line into the dark warehouse. Charlie eased up to the opening and peeked through the crack.
Inside was a small room, the ceiling and walls were plastered with photos of girls in various stages of bondage. There was a whole wall dedicated to Bettie Page with her distinctive black bangs. In the center of the room was a long metal table with pairs of leather straps mounted at either end. Charlie wasn’t into any of that kinky shit, but even an old fashioned guy like him knew what those straps were for, tying someone down so they couldn’t move. There were all kinds of strange devices that Charlie didn’t recognize hanging from hooks on a tall workbench. The perv was hovering over the bench gathering various items into a canvas sack. Suddenly there was a shuffling sound behind Charlie, but before he could move, he was hit on the head with something hard and the lights went out.
“Open your eyes pig! Time to wake up.”
Charlie Towne heard the voice like it was coming down a long tube filled with cotton. He opened his eyes, and as they focused he saw directly above him, a large photo of Bettie Page lying in the fetal position, tied with rope. Charlie felt a burning pain in his jaw and realized he couldn’t close his mouth, it was stuffed with a large rubber ball attached to a rope and tied around his head. His hands and feet where securely held by the leather straps on the cold metal table.
“Hello sunshine.” The perv said hovering somewhere behind Charlie’s head. “Looks like you was sticking your piggy nose where it didn’t belong.”
Charlie tried to speak, but all that came out was a hoarse mumble. He noticed two shadows on the wall at his feet, one tall and thin and the other short and round. He looked up at Bettie again, she had the same ball shaped device in her mouth, her eyes pleading for release. He knew just how she felt.
The perv walked around the table to Charlie’s left side. His greasy hair fell down over one eye covering his sweaty brow. “Who are you pig, and why were you following me?”
“Uh, Manny, I don’t’ think he can answer you, with the ball gag in.” the other voice said.
“Shut up Lester! I know what I’m doin. But since you’re flappin your gums, go ahead and take the gag out.”
It was a huge relief on Charlie’s jaw when the gag was removed. What kind of sick fuck would design something like that anyway he thought. “I’m not a cop.” Charlie gasped. “I work for the city. Someone reported a gas leak around here, I was just checking it out.”
“That’s bullshit!” The perv said. He picked up a stout leather riding crop from the bench and slapped Charlie across the nose with it. White hot pain shot through his face and he could taste blood trickling down the back of his throat.
“No gas man would walk around in this heat in a fancy suit like that. You’re some kinda cop.”
Charlie spat blood out onto the floor to his right. “I swear, you can check my wallet. I’m not a cop. I’ll tell you the truth. The owner hired me to make sure there wasn’t anything illegal going on here, said he thought you might be running a poker game or something.”
“Old man Estes? That fucking nosey bastard. I wondered when he was gonna start poking around here.” The perv said.
The other grease ball stepped around the side of the table and Charlie got a good look at him. He was short and bald and had a huge gut that strained at his sweat stained undershirt. “Uh, Manny, I don’t mean to interrupt, but if we’re gonna get that thing done over at Venice beach, we need to get moving.”
Manny ran his fingers through his greasy hair and paced back and forth along the table. “Alright Lester here’s what we’re gonna do. Put the gag back in Mr. Gas man’s pie hole and we’ll come back and deal with him after the other thing is done. I got everything we need packed and ready to go.” Manny took the riding crop and slammed it down on Charlie’s stomach. “Your lucky gas man. I’m real busy today. You just sit tight and we’ll talk some more later.” The other perv stuffed the ball gag back in Charlie’s mouth and they turned off the lights and left.
It took Charlie about ten minutes to get his right foot out of his shoe and through the leather restraint. He silently gave thanks for being born with thick ankles and narrow feet. He contorted himself until he could hook his big toe in the strap on his left hand. Once he was loose, he grabbed his shoe and ran to the car.
The crowd that milled around the beach was mostly interested in the weight lifters and bikini babes that were happy to pose for pictures with the tourists. Down the near the water, two girls dressed in long robes, walked around in the sand while a man in a straw hat made adjustments to a tripod mounted camera.
“Alright Bettie, I think this is the best light we’re going to get. Are you ready?” The camera man said.
Bettie Page took off her robe and handed it to the other girl. She was wearing an almost nonexistent two piece black and white bikini that showcased her ample curves. Bettie walked out into the ankle deep water and began to seductively court the camera. She kicked her long legs through the waves, sending arcs of ocean spray into the breeze. The camera man clicked away giving her a thumbs up as she worked her way through the encyclopedia of sexy poses that she had invented.
After about fifty shots, the camera man raised up. “Great stuff Bettie! Some of your best work for sure. I think that’ll do it for today.” The other girl handed the robe back to Bettie and they started walking up the beach toward the parking lot, the camera man trailing behind lugging the heavy equipment.
Irving Klause was waiting by the car eating an ice cream cone when the girls made their way up the board walk and out onto the gravel lot. He hated the ocean, and always preferred to hang out at the arcade until the shoot was finished. Bettie walked up and gave him a hug. “I think we got some real good shots Irv.” Klause hugged back trying not to crush his cone.
“Good stuff kid. How about we get you girls back to the hotel and grab some dinner?”
Charlie Towne knew the pervs would try and snatch Bettie somewhere quiet with as few people around as possible. The only place that made sense was the hotel. They were staying at the La Brisa Hermosa, a little joint a couple of block from the beach. Charlie parked his car in the lot and checked his watch. The lump on the back of his head thumped and throbbed with every beat of his heart, but despite that, he couldn’t help but smile. The phone conversation he had just had with his buddy Jake restored his faith in his own luck. It was all going to come down to timing, and the twenty he slipped the desk clerk.
By the time Manny pulled the black Chrysler into the hotel parking lot, Bettie and the crew were already back and in their rooms. Charlie watched from the car as the two pervs got out and scanned the place nervously. Manny left Lester to watch the car, while he went in to get Bettie’s room number from the kid at the desk. A short time later he returned, and Charlie watched as they pulled two shotguns and a couple of leather gas masks, straight from WWII, out of the trunk.
The pervs crossed the lot and headed up the Flamingo pink stairwell to the second floor. Charlie leaned back, fanned himself with his fedora and watched them creep along the corridor looking like bug eyed aliens in their head gear. They stopped in front of a door at the end of the hall, and gave each other a thumbs up. They raised the shotguns they were carrying, and burst through the door. Charlie counted to six before he heard the pistol shots, two short bursts that caused all the other occupants of La Brisa Hermosa to flood out of their rooms in curiosity. All the occupants except Irving Klause and his crew, they didn’t need to look, they knew what had happened.
The two men sat at the same table in the little café down town. Irving Klause dabbed the sweat from his expansive forehead as he slid an envelope across the table to the man in the fedora.
“That was a bang up job you did for us Mr. Towne, worth every penny. If you ever get out East look me up. We’ll give you the dime tour of the Big Apple.”
Charlie Towne took the envelope and slipped it inside his jacket pocket. “Thank you Mr. Klause. It was a pleasure.”
“Oh and Mr. Towne, Bettie wanted to express her thanks, so there’s an autographed photo in the envelope for you. That was some piece of work you pulled off. I heard that neither of those guys made it to the hospital alive. Tell me, how did you know that the police chief would be in that room with a prostitute?