It was springtime in Washington, D.C., 1975. The National Cherry Blossom Festival was in full bloom and here I was in jail. The joint reeked of vomit, cigarettes and urine.
I moved just in time to miss a stream that was aimed at my face. I jumped up from the damp cement floor and pushed the drunk towards a commode at the far corner of the Pennsylvania Avenue holding tank. A disturbed young man, he was still out of it from the night before. He staggered away mumbling to himself, his fly open, bloodstains and mucus all over the front of his trousers.
There was no place to sit in the large, dimly lit room except on the floor. Drunks who were sleeping it off took benches along the borders of the room. The rest wandered about aimlessly, complaining, fighting among themselves. Lost, betrayed men, their lives temporarily on hold; disillusioned by what they thought life should be.
I'm Curly Morgan, a private investigator, licensed by the District of Columbia, coextensive with the city of Washington. I have my own detective agency in Washington, D.C. and my office is located on Fourteenth Street near New York Avenue, NW. The building is occupied downstairs by clothing and paraphernalia stores. Upstairs, a lawyer and a real estate broker share an office down the hall from mine.
I was born Charles Harold Morgan in Anadarko, Oklahoma. My mother was half-Cherokee Indian and half-Irish; my father Irish and French. I'm in my mid-forties with curly brown hair that gave me the nickname, 'Curly'. My laugh wrinkles are becoming character lines, according to my girlfriends. I'm in fairly good shape because I walk a lot and work out when I can. I'm single, have never been married and have no children that I know of. I'm curious by nature and I like my job. That's the secret of being a good private detective.
It was a beautiful day outside, and here I was in jail waiting for James Best to spring me. Best is a blood-sucking, candy-assed, Central Intelligence Agency officer, in charge of a select group of special agents who operate and gather intelligence exclusively in our nation's capitol.
I have done several jobs for James Best and his CIA boys. It burns him when I call his crew the CIA boys. He and his super-secret group try to be so cool; and Best is always fucking up. Seems like I'm constantly doing something to save his ass, but I really shouldn't complain because he pays me well. Working with Best and his boys has actually turned out to be an invaluable connection in the ever-changing power structure of Washington, D.C.
Best is clever. He lives by his wits more than any person I know. He has always lived on the edge, using everyone else's talent to get by. Born James Frances Best in Toledo, Ohio, he kept his middle name a secret for most of his life. The only reason I know it is because he showed me his driver's license one night when he was drunk. He wanted to prove that he was older than I was. He won, and I have that secret to hold over him for the rest of his life.
His father worked as a policeman in Toledo. James always wanted to become a cop, but as he got older he found out that policemen don't make much money. Government law enforcement officers generally make more, so that is where he directed his career. He attended Ohio University, got himself a BA in business administration and a commission as an ensign in the U.S. Navy.
While he was in the service he met an agent with the CIA who hired him to escort women visiting with foreign dignitaries in Washington, D.C. Best had little charm, even fewer social skills, and he struck out fast. He wanted desperately to stay with the CIA so he looked around until he found someone with charm that could handle that kind of assignment.
That's where I came into the picture.
I found out later that the CIA boys had checked me out pretty thoroughly for about six weeks before Best approached me. My first assignment was to escort the niece of the Ambassador to Brazil to a private function at the Hilton hotel.
Best had found his calling with the CIA as a coordinator. I blended in as a well-paid escort for his domestic intelligence gathering activities.
I remember his first words to me, "You want to make some extra money, sailor?"
He looked at me, sizing me up, watching my reaction. I told him I was interested. How much money and what did I have to do to earn it?
He said, "Escort a lady to a fancy affair at one of the big hotels. We want somebody who is sharp, clean-cut, charming, and who doesn't drink too much." He watched my expressions. I must have used the right body language because he said, "I'll pay you twenty bucks cash for the night. All other expenses are paid. All you have to do is escort the lady to this big affair with her relatives, and goddamnit, be a gentleman."
I remember his expression changed with his next statement, "Now, I want you to get this straight, and don't ever repeat it to anyone, because if you do, I never said it. I want you to get in her pants if you can. You know, I want you to take her to bed, have sex with her. I want you to be discreet about it, and report back to me when you're through."
I figured, what the hell, and took the job. He paid me in advance, and warned me, "If anything goes wrong, I don't know you. I never heard of you. You don't even know what CIA stands for. You're just a sailor out having a good time," then added with a cold stare, "I don't owe you jack shit."
I understood the rules and decided to play the game. That was how my part-time career began with the CIA.
Now here I was in jail, and I was getting antsy. The sour smell was one thing that really got to me. I dusted off my English tweed coat and slapped at the matching trousers.
When I can afford it I have my clothing tailored at Melena's, the best in Washington, D.C. I like my clothes to fit like a comfortable glove on my one hundred eighty-five pound body.
I was getting more spooked by the minute. I noticed a thin-faced man standing nearby; his dark, hollow eyes on my new shoes. His soiled clothing hung loosely on his undernourished body. I found a dry spot and sat down near the darkest corner of the large room and ignored him.
That's when he made his move.
He ran and slid at me feet first, threw one leg over both of mine and began untying my shoes! His dark eyes concentrated on what he was doing. His mouth dripped thick saliva and his long dirty fingers moved quickly, desperate for the prize. The sour odor from his body was almost unbearable.
"You dumb son of a bitch!" I yelled. I yanked my other foot free and shoved it into his back to push him away.
It didn't phase him.
He kept tugging on my shoe, twisting it, determined. I doubled my fist and came down hard on his bony backside. He was tough, wiry, and nothing seemed to phase him. I could tell he had been on the streets a long time.
Only now, the heel of my shoe had slipped from my foot! This was one crazy son of a bitch! He twisted the shoe in one practiced motion, and it came off in his hand. He grunted and turned. His long black-tipped fingers reached greedily for the other shoe and I kicked out at him.
Like an experienced wrestler, he wrapped his arm securely around my outstretched foot, held it close to his body and began to pull off the other shoe.
"I don't believe this!" I cried, moving, gyrating, anything to be free of this persistent maniac. I felt the shoe come off and the man jumped up quickly to run away.
"Not this time, pal!" I cried, slamming my foot into the man's ankle, tripping him. When he fell, he held the new shoes close to his chest, protecting them from the fall.
He grunted and spit at me, then scrambled to his feet. This time I was up and on him. I grabbed his arm and could feel the grime with my fingers. My other hand swung quickly, slapping him with my open palm. Stunned, the man dropped the shoes, then went for them again. Slobbering like a madman, his eyes locked on the shiny leather. His greasy hair fell into his eyes and he pushed it away with dirty fingers. Nothing else mattered to this poor soul except my shoes. I guess he thought they would fit, and as far as he was concerned, they were already his.
My heart was pumping hard, adrenaline flowed through my body. I poised, ready to strike him again. The man reached up under the long mass of stringy hair, pulled something out and turned to face me. I saw a single-edged razor blade between his right thumb and index finger.
"Whoa!" I cried, changing my stance.
"I'll kill you!" he cried, lashing out at me. The razor caught me on the arm and sliced through my sleeve.
"Why, you creepy.... This is a good suit!" I yelled, side-stepping the second slash of the razor. I spun around, kicking out from behind, and my heel caught him in the stomach. Turning again, my clenched fist came down hard on his cheek. I heard the crunch of bone as I broke his jaw, then stepped back to let him fall.
I reached down and picked up my shoes.
"Like I said, not this time, pal," I panted, out of breath. I thought I was in better shape.
Several men stood by watching. Their eyes filled with excitement from the violence. One of them, his bloodshot eyes fixed on the floor, bolted to the downed man and grabbed the razor blade. He started to run away when I caught him.
"Gimme that," I said, twisting the blade from the man's clammy hand. "Go on, all of you!" I waved my arms at the men. I was mad as hell and they knew it. They began to disperse and walked away slowly.
I walked to the corner of the room and sat down once again. My heart was still pumping hard from all the excitement as I put on my shoes.
"Creepy bastards!" I mumbled and snarled at a man who lingered close by. He was dressed in ragged blue jeans, print shirt, and scuffed tennis shoes. He was probably in his early thirties, still young, but not new to the streets. He had that look in his pathetic eyes that I didn't like.
"Go on! Get outta here!" I yelled at him. He turned and was soon lost among the others.