Headquarters for Silverman Investigations Incorporated in Downey took up the entire top floor of the office building that housed Rocco's Restaurant. Although Sol had a large staff of operatives and secretaries on his payroll upstairs, he hung out at the restaurant on the ground floor. Rocco's had even installed a separate telephone line in his private booth at the back of the dining room.
Andre, the maitre d', was at his station by the entrance jotting a name in the reservation book when I walked into the restaurant. He looked up at me and waved as I strolled past him. Andre knew I was the only person Sol allowed to go to his booth unannounced.
Sol stood to greet me. "Shalom, my friend," he said. "Now, sit and we'll enjoy a nice lunch."
Sol was taller sitting down than standing up, his chest was huge and matched his stomach, but his legs were short and skinny. His large round head hunkered down directly on his shoulders without a suggestion of a neck. Today he was wearing a rust colored turtleneck that fit tight across his torso, but the folds of the sweater at the top were baggy and covered his chin. He tugged at his collar as he wedged himself into the booth.
I slipped into the booth across from him. "Did Mabel call?"
"Why are you always late?" Sol said.
"Yes, you are, Jimmy my boy, but I've got a system with you."
"What kind of system?" Sol had systems for everything, especially at the track.
"When you say you're going to meet me at a certain time I always show up fifteen minutes later."
"Oh, Sol, I know you do that. And that's why I'm always late, because you're late."
"Yeah, but now you're late being late."
He had me there.
"I can see on your face, you have a problem," Sol said, "and you need my help. Is that why you came to break bread with me?"
"I came to have lunch with my friend. What else?"
A small smile appeared on Sol's face, but his dark eyes bored into me. "Nothing else, I'm sure, but first tell me what you need."
Buck's death was nagging at me. Sol had contacts everywhere, his 'spies', and I thought he might be able to get a copy of the sheriff department’s report. I couldn't come right out and ask him for a favor, but if I told him the story, he’d volunteer his services.
"Guy can't eat with a friend without needing something?" I said.
"Of course, but I know you, Jimmy. Go ahead, lay it on me."
"Yeah, I guess something's bugging me."
"Ah, ha, I knew it! You came here for a favor."
"No, Sol, I just found out about it. My client — "
Sol's bushy eyebrows rose. "A client? You have a client?" The eyebrows fell. "Wait a minute. Is this a paying client or another one of your freebies?"
"This client is dead."
"Oh." Sol paused for a moment. "Dead men pay no bills."
Janine came to the table with a drink for Sol and a cup of coffee for me. She was wearing a new uniform more in keeping with the prevailing feminist movement than the low-cut miniskirt outfits that the waitresses used to wear. "Like the new getup?" Janine did a slow twirl showing off her loose fitting white blouse buttoned at the neck, and her plain black skirt.
"Sweetheart, on you, a gunnysack would look sexy," Sol said.
"Oh, Sol, aren't you the sweetest thing." Janine glanced at me. "How about you, good lookin'? Do you like it?"
Before I could answer, Sol piped up. "Why do you always call him good looking? I think you wore out that joke."
Here we go again. I've been through this before.
"Well," Janine said, angling her head in my direction, "he's got those baby-blues, like Paul Newman. Kinda looks like him too."
In response to the same compliment I’d gotten since my third birthday, I rolled the baby-blues. It was embarrassing. As a kid, when guests came to our home, I wanted to run and hide. Did Paul Newman have the same problem? Nah, he'd love it. That's why he's a star, and I'm me.
"Don't you think he looks like Paul Newman, Sol?" Janine continued.
"Looks more like Ronnie Howard."
"Who's Ronnie Howard?" she said.
"Opie on the Andy Griffith Show. You remember — Mayberry, and all that."
"Thanks, Sol," I said.
Janine laughed. "Maybe you're right. Opie, only taller," she said, giving me the once over. "But he sure has a better build than Barney Fife."
"Cut it out you guys," I said. "Let's order."
"Sure, Opie," Janine said. "What'll you have?"
When they stopped laughing, I ordered a hamburger. Sol told Janine to bring him a new dish he was keen to try. I couldn't pronounce its name, but Sol said it had slices of veal sprinkled with sage, covered with wafer thin prosciutto, sauteed in sweet butter, and then braised in a Pinot Blanc. He told Janine to have the chef toss in some black truffles for an additional flavor boost. Sol ordered a bottle of La Tache '62 to go with the meal. Janine rushed off to instruct the chef how to prepare Sol's lunch.
"Now, Jimmy. What does this dead guy want me to do for him?"
I told Sol about Buck Simpson, my call to the deputy D.A., and my feeling that I wouldn't get the facts. "Sol, the guard said Simpson committed suicide, but — "
"So, maybe he did."
"Maybe he didn't."
"Take it from an expert, Jimmy, if you want to find out about someone, you have to talk to his friends, people he knew. Go to his home, see how he lived. It takes a lot of time."
"Maybe you could find out what really happened from the Sheriff's Department," I said.
"Why should you care what happened?"
"I dunno, Sol. Shouldn’t somebody care?"
Sol took a sip of his drink. "Look, my young friend, the guy was a goniff. The State was going to pay you a few bucks for his hearing, no offense." Sol spread his arms out. "Even with your fine eloquence, I'm sure he was doomed, going back to prison," he said. "Isn't it just your job to see that his rights weren't violated?"
"Yeah, now he's dead. What does that say about his rights?"
"Let's enjoy lunch. No more talk of dead guys, suicides, jails."
I felt a little down. I figured Sol didn't think the matter was important enough, or maybe Buck's death wasn't worthy of his time. "What do you want to talk about?" I asked.
Sol wanted to talk about the commodity market. I guessed he wanted to brag a little. I didn't mind. I enjoyed listening to his stories.
Janine appeared with our food, and Sol continued rambling on. We ate, and I listened.
It was almost two o'clock when I slipped out of the booth and got up to leave. "Thanks for lunch, Sol," I said.
"Thought you wanted to know about the dead guy."
"Then sit down."
I sat and Sol picked up the phone. "Julie, get Bob Morgan on the line at the Sheriff's Department in East L.A. and put him through to me. I'll hold."
"Morgan?" I asked.
"The undersheriff, good friend, he'll tell us what he knows, but it'll cost me a dinner at La Scala's. Expensive, but they got the greatest steak tartare, and you wouldn't believe the ..." Sol stopped talking and raised his hand. "Hey, Bobbo, my boy. I need a little help." He paused for a second and nodded. "Thanks, you too." Another short pause. "Whaddya know about a Buck Simpson? Supposedly committed suicide in your jail last night."
After a few grunts, a couple of 'I understands', and one 'You know me, Bob, won't happen,' Sol hung up.
"What did he say?" I asked, perhaps a little too fast.
Sol drained the last of the wine from his glass, picked up a napkin, and wiped his mouth. "The official line is that he committed suicide. Hung himself," Sol said. He stopped right there, but of course, I knew there was more.
We just sat and stared at one another for about fifteen seconds. We were playing one of Sol's little games. I figured in a minute he'd order dessert or something, just to keep the suspense up a little longer before he told me what really happened.
"Want more coffee, Jimmy?" he said turning his head. "I'll get the waitress."
After a moment or two, Sol said, "Yep, hung himself, all right. After he was stabbed in the back...three times."