Murder on the Yellow Brick Road
Murder on the Yellow Brick Road
Someone had murdered a Munchkin. The little man was lying on his back in the middle of the yellow brick road with his startled wide eyes looking into the overhead lights of an M.G.M. sound stage. He wore a kind of comic soldier's uniform with a yellow coat and puffy sleeves and a big fez-like blue and yellow hat with a feather on top. His yellow hair and beard were the phony straw color of Hollywood. He might have looked kind of cute in a tinsel-town way if it hadn't been for the knife sticking out of his chest. The knife was a brown-handled kitchen thing. Only the handle was visible.
As I stepped forward, I could see that the blood made a dark red trail down the far side of the body. The blood flowed into the cracks of the yellow brick road. Up close I could see that the yellow paint was flecking off the bricks. I looked up the road. It didn't lead to Oz, but to a blank, grey wall.
Then I looked at the body and the grey wall again and wondered what I was doing here. It was Friday, November 1, 1940. It's easy to remember because the previous night just after eleven I had felt the tremor of a mild earthquake. Some Californians mark their lives by the earthquakes and tremors they experience. I just remember them and wonder how long I'll live lucky.
At the moment I didn't feel lucky. I felt stupid. An hour earlier I had been talking to someone at Warner Brothers when a call reached me. Someone said she was Judy Garland, and I should get to Metro. I got there as fast as my '34 Buick would take me, which was not very fast.
At the M.G.M. gate on Washington in Culver City I was greeted by two uniformed security men who didn't recognize me. There was no reason they should. After a few years on the Glendale police force, I had taken a security job at Warner Brothers. I'd held that for about five years and lost it when I'd broken the arm of a cowboy star. I'd propped him up a lot of times, and he let me down once too often by taking a drunken swing at me. His broken bones knocked two weeks off the shooting schedule of his latest picture and knocked me out of the studio.
Since then, I had almost made a living as a private investigator. I had met a lot of people, made almost nothing and did some freelance bodyguarding for movie people, most of whom didn't need it. I'd done some work for M.G.M. but not much and not lately.
One guy at the gate said:
He was a lanky cowboy type in his fifties with grey hair and a weather-beaten face. His looks more than his ability probably carried him into his security job. I knew the route. When people did use me, it was generally for the way I looked rather than anything they knew about me.
My nose is mashed against my dark face from two punches too many. At 44 I've a few grey hairs in my short sideburns, and my smile looks like a cynical sneer even when I'm having a good time, which isn't very often. I'm reasonably tough, but there are a lot around town just as tough and just as cheap. I fit a type, and in my business I was willing to play it up rather than try to cover.
The cowboy at the gate waited for my answer. His metal name tag read "Buck McCarthy." I smiled and acknowledged my name.
"I got a call from Judy Garland," I said. "She wants to see me."
"I got the word," the cowboy said. "Slide over."
I slid over, and the cowboy got in to drive after nodding to his assistant to watch the gate. Metro was class. Two guards on a gate. I wondered if Jack Warner knew.
The cowboy switched the Buick into gear and took off slowly between the huge yellow-grey airplane hangers that served as buildings.
"You need a new heap," the cowboy said, trying to find second.
"I just had it tuned," I said. A normal man would have given up and let me drive, but he played his part to the end. No mangy Buick was going to get the better of Buck McCarthy. Buck rode my maver