Scaring the Sleaze
The rest of the day passed with routine duties. Laura MacLeod and her boy friend were watched as they wandered around town. The latter, whose name was Arnie, was seen to show contempt for almost everything he saw. They evidently didn't see anything that attracted them in the way of a restaurant, and ate again at the Bollinger House. Afterwards, they sat in the cocktail lounge for an hour.
Jackson Schranz, one of the plain clothes officers taking turns on the suspects, came upstairs to the room next to that of the Ernsts, where Vic had established himself. Schranz reported,
"She's not a bad girl, but she's stuck on him."
Vic shook his head,
"I can never understand women."
"Well, he's been in the joint, but he talks better than most of them. I mean, allowing for that accent. And even that's not as bad as some I've heard. He's the type who tries to put on the dog when he's inside. Probably got the shit beaten out of him, too. But he would know what to say to a girl. She's not real smart."
"How much longer are they likely to be down there?"
"Not much longer. I told the bartender to cut him off. He's probably got a bottle in the room there."
It was only a few minutes before there were steps in the hall, some of them the unmistakeable scrape and tap of high heels in places where the floor was bare. Schranz took up his position at the keyhole of the connecting door that they had modified to allow a wider angle of vision.
Vic could hear the high heels move toward the bathroom. There were then noises of plumbing, both human and otherwise. When she came back, Vic, with his ear against the door, could hear Laura say,
"I needed that. If you want, we could find a bar. It's only ten thirty."
"Naa, fuck it. Take your dress off."
"Ok. Put the chain on the door."
Just then, the other detective, Cassidy, eased quietly into the room. Vic signalled for him to be ready and turned his attention back to the room next door. There was the faint slithering sound of a dress being removed.
Vic was conscious of the kind of fascinated anticipation that he hadn't felt for many years. The closest thing was Christmas morning as a child, just before he was allowed to come downstairs. The goodies, he knew, were right there, and it was so hard to wait. Even during his brief spell of being married, there hadn't been anything like it. His wife hadn't been as pretty or sexy as this girl, and she hadn't taken instructions well.
The mere fact of putting Schranz instead of himself at the keyhole, was a feat of great self-denial for Vic. The senior officer, he knew, shouldn't allow himself to be seen doing anything so undignified as peeking through a keyhole.
There was again the tap of heels and a noise of hangars rattling in the closet. Then, as the heels returned, there was a scuffling sound and Laura protested,
"Don't tear it, I'll take it off."
Vic was watching Schranz' face at the keyhole, and he judged it to be time to act even before Laura let out a yelp of pain.
Vic had previously borrowed a bit brace downstairs, and had carefully turned all the screws attaching the chain and spring lock until they spun in their holes. They now shot off as Schranz put his shoulder to the door.
In an operation of this sort, there was always an instant when the targets stood immobile. Whether they were caught red-handed or naked, the sudden and violent intrusion of the police produced a shock which made it impossible for even the most hardened criminal to take immediate evasive action. Arnie, with his pants around his ankles, could only gape. Schranz had him by the arm, and was charging him with the violation of various local ordinances, including false registration at a hotel.
Laura didn't scream. After remaining transfixed in her kneeling position for that first instant, she flung herself, face down, on to the carpet. She then lay there, a hand to her head, and shivered convulsively. Vic picked up a coat from a chair and covered her with it.
Arnie now began to mouth off loudly and abusively, but Schranz handcuffed him in back and twisted his arms until he quieted. Laura was a more difficult problem, and Vic, on one knee beside her, had to speak reassuringly for some moments before she would answer. She then rose slowly with the coat around her, and was allowed to get dressed in the bathroom.
Schranz walked Arnie over to the station while Vic followed with Cassidy, Laura walking between them. When he sat her down in his office, she began talking immediately.
"I know what happened. Chuck told you all about us. That's why he kept trying to find out if I was married to Arnie."
Vic nodded sympathetically and said,
"I told him to find out."
"Tell me right off. How much trouble am I in?"
"You're not in serious trouble, Miss MacLeod. A few misdemeanors, charges we probably won't bother with. We've got your friend pinned to the wall for blackmail, though."
The young woman in front of Vic remained silent for a moment, looking at the floor. Vic supposed that she was undergoing grief. She then asked,
"Why Arnie and not me?"
"I was in the next booth at the Courthouse Cafe recording your conversation with Dr. Winton."
Laura made as if to cover her face with her hand, but didn't say anything. Vic continued,
"You talked about borrowing money, and insisted that you wanted to repay it. I doubt that you really would have, but, still, you did sound sincere. That's not yet blackmail. It was Arnie who demanded five thousand dollars and said what he'd do if he didn't get it. That is blackmail."
"It all started because I was still angry at Chuck. I did think he was going to leave his wife for me. He might not've promised it exactly, but I'm sure he meant to give me that idea. Then he dropped me. And gave my phone number to another doctor. What's worse, I took up with the other guy, and he dropped me too. By that time, I was real mad. At Chuck more than the other guy. Then I came across Arnie. But, when I got here and saw Chuck, I felt all different. He's not bad, just a real big kid."
That was Vic's own impression of Dr. Winton, but he didn't say so. He said instead,
"Well, you saved yourself at the last minute, Miss MacLeod. Your problem is just hanging around with slimeballs like Arnie. You're an attractive girl. You could do better."
"Well, I started with doctors, but look what happened. They're too high class for me. If I were prettier or smarter, or came from a different kind of people, well maybe. But I don't. Arnie at least wants me more."
"But he treats you so badly. We heard that from the next room. Why put up with it."
"So you saw that, too. Well, he didn't really hurt me. Besides, Arnie's not that bad. He's said lots of nice things to me, and he hasn't left me or traded my phone number to somebody else for bubble gum or anything like that."
Vic decided that Laura wasn't dumb or hopeless, no matter how she might act with Arnie. When they broke in on her, she had been overcome with old-fashioned shame, pure and simple. More than a trace of it remained in her flushed face. Vic felt almost as if, instead of rescuing her from Arnie, he had assaulted her. He had never felt that way before. He now said,
"It may be true that these young doctors will take advantage of a girl like you. They're known for it. But you don't have to go from there to Arnie. There are a hell of a lot of guys in between, decent guys who'd appreciate you and treat you nicely."
"Well, sure, I suppose so. But a lot are taken, and I'm not getting any younger. Anyway, I haven't found one."
Vic found it almost impossible to say anything at all. He remembered Laura's face as he had first seen it at the Courthouse Cafe. She had looked young, healthy, and surprisingly innocent. Then, with Arnie, she had sounded, perhaps no longer innocent, but at least happy. It was now that she looked defeated and ready to slink off somewhere to cry. Vic finally said,
"The assistant DA wants to see you. Don't worry. He's a nice young guy. I'll get you a coffee and leave you to wait while I go talk to Arnie. Afterwards, I'll take you back to the hotel."
"What are you going to do with Arnie?"
"Scare the bejeebers out of him, put him in jail, and then let him escape. We've done that before. If the guy later causes trouble, we put out an all-points bulletin and bring him back. If not, we figure we've seen the last of him."
Arnie had been in a cell with a large mean-looking black man. There had been no mayhem, but Arnie looked relieved when Vic directed the jailor to take him down to an interrogation room.
Jackson Schranz led off by standing over Arnie menacingly and asking rapid-fire questions. He said nothing about blackmail, but made numerous other accusations. It sounded as if Arnie was violating parole or probation in New York simply by being out of state, but he, Vic, could think of no way of informing the New York authorities without compromising his own plans. Sitting behind Arnie, he could see the other's resistance gradually being worn down as he wriggled in his chair and his head twisted from side to side. Finally, Vic waved to Schranz, set his chair down in front of Arnie, and smiled at him. Vic gestured again to Schranz, who started to play back the conversation they had taped earlier.
After he had heard the tape, Arnie had one last burst of defiance.
"I know you local cops. You'll try to protect that doctor. You won't use that. You can't do nuthin to me."
Vic smiled again. He then told Arnie the story of Sykes in loving detail. Arnie showed impatience, and, at one point, tried to cover his ears. But Vic could see that he was listening. He even shuddered at the conclusion. Vic then went on,
"I wouldn't do that to you, Arnie. It's not just that I think you're such a great guy. It wouldn't work. If somebody wanted to fight you, you'd run. We've got something different in mind for you."
Vic stopped dead. Arnie knew better than to ask, but couldn't help himself. Vic answered with a question.
"Remember Jake, that guy you were in a cell with? What do you think he'd do if we told him you're a child molester and then put you back there?"
"You can't scare me. I've been in jail before."
"I knew that when I first saw you. But you haven't been in as a child molester."
As Arnie began to call him names, Vic adopted a somewhat pained expression and raised his hand to stop him. He then spoke as if he were thinking aloud.
"I wonder if Jake would believe us. You do look like a child molester, Arnie. On the other hand, he might actually believe you when you told him you were only a blackmailer. You know, the funny thing is, it wouldn't really matter if he believed us. He'd still know what we wanted, and, like all the other guys inside, he wants to please us. He thinks we might have something to say about his future."
Vic could see that he finally had Arnie on the run. For once, he was quiet. His face had also changed color noticeably. Vic went on,
"I've just been kidding you, Arnie. I have no intention of saying anything to Jake. This is just the station lock-up, and he's not really a mean guy. All the real hard-asses are over at the county jail. You wouldn't believe some of the things they do."
Vic then retailed a true story of something that had happened recently in another county, moving it fictively to their own county jail.
"Only a month ago, we put a sexual deviant in there, and they knew about it. They aren't closely supervised all the time, and this guy was put on a yard work detail behind the building with just one guard. The other guys dragged this young man behind some bushes, took his pants down, and made him kneel on the ground. He probably thought they were going to bugger him, which they do a lot of. But that's if it's just an ordinary guy. With this guy, they took a garden hose and rammed it up his asshole. Then they turned the water on. The guard actually saw this, but pretended not to notice."
Vic paused for effect, happy to see Arnie hanging on his words. He then continued,
"You know, that doesn't sound so bad, maybe a little like getting an enema. But the regular water pressure must be ten or twenty times what you'd get in an enema. What happened was, it kind of flushed this guy's insides out through his asshole. He didn't die for days. There was blood coming out, but not a real hemorrhage. On the other hand, you can't live a real long time if your plumbing's all gone. I'm going to transfer you to the county jail tonight, Arnie. Now we need a story."
Vic stopped and pretended to scrutinize Arnie, who was now beginning to shake. He then said to him,
"I think maybe you raped the four year old daughter of the Baptist preacher."
Vic then nodded, as if pleased with himself.
"Yes. That ought to do. That should do the trick real fast."
He then motioned to Schranz to take Arnie away. He called after them,
"So you see, Arnie, there are some things we local cops can do, even without playing that tape in court."
Vic returned to the room in which he had left Laura, and found Howie already with her. The latter waved to him,
"Come on in, Vic. I've just gotten here."
Vic sat down as Howie spoke to her.
"We believe, Miss MacLeod, that you're a decent young woman who's fallen into bad company. Sergeant Olafson has just been dealing with the bad company. How did it go, Vic?"
"He's pretty worried. I told him we were throwing him into the county jail and telling the other inmates that he raped a little girl. Bigelow is taking him over without handcuffs. He'll look the other way a minute, and Arnie'll be gone. I imagine he'll spend the night running over the fields and then hitch a ride at dawn. If he ever causes Doc Winton any trouble, we'll have him brought back as an escaped prisoner."
"Good. Do you think he's likely to cause trouble, Miss Macleod?"
Laura could only shake her head slowly. Howie spoke cheerfully,
"Well, that's all to the good, isn't it? You won't miss him, will you?"
Laura shrugged her shoulders resignedly. Howie then changed his tone slightly.
"There's another matter we should consider now. Doctor Winton feels badly about this whole episode. It wasn't his idea that we bust in on you, but he felt compelled to come to the authorities. He realizes that we cannot regard blackmail with complacency."
Vic admired Howie's ability, despite his youth, to produce, when appropriate, the manner of an old-fashioned lawyer, one who is fussy, meticulous, and utterly scrupulous. Laura was now hanging on Howie's words as Arnie, just previously, had hung on his own very different ones. Howie, in dead silence, cleared his throat and continued,
"Doctor Winton also feels that he may in the past have treated you, shall we say, with insufficient consideration. He would therefore like to settle accounts."
Howie reached into his briefcase and produced a check and a paper.
"Here is his check, made out to you for three hundred dollars. In return, you will sign this agreement which releases him from all claims."
Vic could see that Laura was stunned, for the moment unable to respond. Howie said, with a hint of dry old-lawyers' humor,
"This sum is, of course, much less than that demanded by your associate. But, I dare say, it may not be much less than the share you might ultimately have received from him."
Laura asked only,
"You mean, I get three hundred dollars and I don't have to go to jail?"
"Precisely. Now, if you'd like to sign, Sergeant Olafson and I can witness it."
As soon as the papers were signed, Howie placed his forefingers together and concluded,
"You understand that you have now settled any legal claim you might have against Dr. Winton. Any further claim would be illegal, in fact blackmail. It would be much wiser not to communicate with him at all."
"Well, thank him for me. I certainly wasn't going to cause any more trouble anyway. Do you think Arnie's all right?"
Vic went down the hall briefly, and returned smiling.
"He escaped a few minutes ago. It's a warm night, and he had a coat. He'll be Ok. I'll take you back to the hotel now."
As he walked Laura back and made small talk, Vic realized that the check for three hundred was a precaution that was probably unnecessary in the circumstances. Still, he was glad that it had been taken.
When they arrived at the hotel, Vic made temporary repairs to the chain and lock on Laura's door. After doing so, he said,
"I'll make arrangements to spend the night next door in case he comes back. That chain will give way if somebody pushes hard on it."
"I'm sure he won't. I'm not afraid anyway."
Vic brushed her objections aside.
"That type can get mean. Did you know he's been in jail before?"
"No. What for?"
"I don't know exactly. Probably bad checks. It could have been for assaulting a woman, though."
Vic then called the night clerk on Laura's phone.
"Sid, as I told you, I'll be spending the night in 503 on the lookout. Call me immediately if Mr. Ernst comes in. Thanks."
Vic said good night to Laura and entered the next room. He then slid noiselessly to the connecting door and knelt at the keyhole.