Before I left the theater, such as it was, with its paint peeling and mortar cracking like an old man wheezing, exhausted, breathing its last, I checked with Sheldon, who said he didn’t know where Joy lived. The only clue he had was a key, the kind that opens a safety deposit box. Joy had left it behind for some reason. As far as Sheldon knew, she had moved to Minneapolis.
The key in my hand felt warm, as if it held some secret it wanted me to know. I wondered if by any chance this could be the key that would lead me to the money, at least part of it had been lost when Purvis was shot trying to escape. The gang had stolen five hundred thousand, but it had been rumored since the robbery, in 1950, that Yvonne had managed to evade capture with as much as half that amount.
Out of curiosity, I went out to the baseball park. I had heard of only one Wrigley Field until then, the one in Chicago, home of the Cubs. But this one was in L.A., home to a bush league.
Lieutenant Cordell had been the cop in charge of the Wrigley Field armored car robbery. I telephoned him from a drugstore on Figueroa. He sounded grumpy, but said he’d see me, just for a minute.
He was grumpy. Worse than that, he was pretty upset about something. The desk he sat behind had a stack of files rising about three feet, and behind it, his feet rested on a small cleared portion of the desk. His hands were laced behind his head in the familiar pose of a man in charge of his bailiwick. He wore a white shirt, a garish tie loosened at the neck.
He opened his eyes and stared at me without expression. His eyes were dark with the detectives mind’s wariness.
He put his feet down. “You’re, uh, Dick Power…”
Cordell was a stocky kind of guy, with a map for a face; his eyes held steady. I could see how good he’d be intimidating anyone, including me no doubt.
“You look a lot like an actor I remember seeing in a couple movies,” I said to him, because right away I saw the resemblance. “Charles McGraw,” I said, and sat down.
“Yeah, I get that all the time,” he said, in a tired, gravely voice. “What c’n I do for ya? You say you’re a private investigator?”
“Yeah. I’m from Boston.”
“So, what’s your interest in this?”
He lit a cigarette and pushed the pack of Camels over toward me.
“Thanks,” I said. “But I smoke Lucky Strikes.”
Cordell looked worn out, his suit crumpled as if he’d slept in it – possibly he had – and he reeked of something that was eating him up inside.
“You don’t know what happened to Yvonne LeDoux,” I said, making it a statement.
“What’s your part in this?”
“I remember the robbery, and I followed it closely for a time. I was busy with my own agency. I got a client – an interested client.”
I gave him one of my cards. He glanced at it without much interest and put it down. He then stared at me with those black eyes, compelling me to speak.
“She got away, as far as I know, when you caught up with Purvis,” I continued. “At the airport.”
“Yeah, we caught up with him, but he got caught up in the propeller of a DC-3. It wasn’t pretty.”
“And the money…”
“That’s your interest?”
“I thought I could collect on the reward.”
“You said you had a client.”
“We would split the proceeds.”
“I was thinking of canceling it. She wasn’t that important, and the others are all dead, except for Mapes. He’s in jail, servin’ time.”
“Maybe I could talk to him?”
“Mapes?” He looked scornful. “Good luck.”
I made myself as comfortable as I could in his small office, which smelled of stale coffee and stale cigarette smoke. I asked him if he could tell me, briefly, what his part in the apprehension had been.
“I lost my partner,” he said, morosely. “Phillips was a good man.”
What I knew about this case was that a bunch of thugs led by Dave Purvis, had robbed the armored car, on its last stop, but they hadn’t counted on the cops being there so fast.
“Purvis knew how long it took us to get there, because he cased the ball park and phoned in some phony calls. He had timed the arrival of the police down to seconds with a stop watch, only they hadn’t counted on us being so close, just up San Pedro, and we were there in less than a minute. Gunfight broke out, Phillips was killed.”
That seemed to end the conversation. He was grieving over his dead partner.
“I got a new partner,” he said, grumbling. “He turned out okay in the end, got hisself shot in the belly, but he’s a good man. I just din see it like that right away. When you lose a partner, it’s a big deal. You get used to a guy, you know?”
“Yeah, I understand.”
“Not sure you do. You ever been a cop? I don’t mean rent-a-cop, I’m talking a real policeman.”
I didn’t say anything for a moment, giving the Lieutenant a chance to unload his chagrin, even if it was on me.
“What happened after your partner was shot? I heard there was a pursuit through the streets of Los Angeles, and that one of the boys was shot, but they carried him anyway.”
“Yeah. Benny. Benny McBride. He was married to Yvonne, you know. But, uh, Purvis and his wife were planning to, uh, let’s say, divest Benny of his proceeds after the job was done. As it happened, he was no trouble to Purvis once he was dead.”
“So, Al Mapes went to jail, Yvonne disappeared. And there was another guy?”
“Ace Foster, just a regular palooka – no brains. Purvis had the brains. But they ended up diced by a propeller at the City Airport. Brains all over the tarmac, and the money spilled out of his suitcase; some of it got tainted. Uniform cops had to use gloves to handle it.”
He took a pull on his cigarette and said, smiling crookedly: “Just bein’ philosophical for a minute, it didn’t matter much who they were. Purvis ended up as dead as Benny and Ace Foster.”
“Can you tell me anything about Yvonne LeDoux?” I asked, hearing the finality in his voice. “How did she get away?”
“I wish I could say, but I can’t. I dunno.”
He got up and came toward me. He was a little taller than I had expected, but he looked as disheveled as before. His chin was full of stubble, and as he got closer to me, his breath hit me and I stepped back.
“Look,” he began, pointing at me with his index finger, “I don’t feel too good about…about the way things worked out. For one thing, I lost my partner, and I lost the babe.”
I looked at him, but the question in my eyes didn’t get me the answer I half expected.
“I’m talkin’ police work, and I don’t like it when deadbeats get away, so if you want to track her down, well, okay, but all I can tell ya is that she’s in Vegas. And if you find her, what’d you think the chances are she’ll still have the money? – if she had the money in the first place, which we can only surmise. I don’t have to tell you what these people are like.”
He turned away. “That’s all I know. Don’t ask me how, just take that and run with it, if you want, but that’s all I’m gonna say about it.”
I thanked him and left. I didn’t have any new information, except for the fact that Mapes was in prison. I wondered if it would be worthwhile interviewing him.
But something happened that changed everything, because as I left the police station, my eyes targeted a headline in a newspaper a kid was selling at the corner, all about an escape from San Quentin. The prisoner’s name was Al Mapes.
To Be Continued