Three years later.

My wrestling career ended less than two months after The Creature from Los Alamos wrapped up in New Mexico. Mr. Fuller put me back on the road, but I was not the same. The damage that Mr. Art’s thugs did to my equilibrium proved irreversible. I became sloppy. I fell down a lot. Bulldog Brocker went from being a feared heel to a joke. Mr. Fuller told me that there was nothing he could do for me.

“It’s either outlaw shows or a new line of business. Sorry, kid.” That was October 1955 in Shreveport. By December of that year, I made my way to Los Angeles with $20 to my name. I promptly spent most of the money on beer at a grungy cowboy joint in El Monte. I kept drinking even after the money was gone. They were on the verge of throwing me out when a pair of shitkickers came in and started hassling the pool players for a game. I knew that the pair were sharks on the make for easy bucks, so I called them dirty names when they refused to let one Poindexter leave with his dignity intact.

“What’s it to you, bub?” one asked. His friend, who wore a curved scar on his cheek, said something about me being ugly.

“I’ll show you ugly,” I said. I used a pool stick to break the scarface’s nose. For the other one, I went back to my Big Jim Barnard days and dug his left eye right out of its socket. Then, when both were wounded, I pinned them to the ground and slapped them until the owner pulled me off. Instead of a tongue lashing or a threat about calling the police, the owner offered me a job. He promised to forget about my unpaid tab if I agreed to work as his security. I accepted.

A circuitous route took me from that bar to the offices of Lee McManus, private investigator. Bouncing in El Monte could not cover all my bills in the big city, so I took part-time work with a shady repossession company. I was lousy at carting away delinquent autos, but I handled the rowdier customers just fine. One of the deadbeats threatened to sue, so when I asked the company about possible legal help, they sent me to Lee McManus.

“I’m not a lawyer, and there’s not a chance in Hell that I can help you other than giving you a job.” That was it. I gave up repossession work and became a secretary and musclehead for a private eye.

On a rainy afternoon in April 1958, Lee came out of his office and handed me a small package. I was in a decidedly sour mood. Alonzo Kolb, my old drinking partner from The Creature from Los Alamos, was dead. The paper said that it was a case of acute liver failure brought on by years of hard drinking. They buried the poor bastard before I could even say goodbye. I had plans to visit his long-suffering wife in San Bernadino, but Lee changed the calculus on me.

“Do me a favor and watch what’s on that film,” he said. “I’m headed to ‘Frisco for a minute to follow up on something related to the Galton case.”

“What’s on it?”

“Dunno. The package arrived this morning while you were out getting coffee and donuts. There was a small letter inside saying something about a missing person. A former B-movie actress. The rest of it was mumbo-jumbo junk about Mexico or something. I figure it’s all crank stuff, but we got to dot our Is and cross our Ts, right?”


“Watch it and tell me about it.” Lee wrote down the name of his hotel in San Francisco. On the back was a phone number. I promised to call if the film proved worthwhile.”

“And don’t burn the place down while I’m gone,” Lee said as he left the office.

An hour later, after I put away a steak sandwich and watched the rain, I loaded the 8mm film and let it run. The small whirr of the projector’s engine mixed well with the steady downpour outside. I sipped from a small glass of whisky. The first few shots showed adobe walls drenched in sun. It looked like the inside of a hacienda somewhere south of the border. I liked the look of the place at first. I could practically smell the honeysuckle and orchids through the makeshift screen. Then the film changed. After panoramic shots of a lovely villa, the movie went into a darkened room where a woman and man were making love. It was rough love too. The naked man smacked the naked woman around a little bit after a few hard pumps. The man was tall, lean, and tan. His hair was dark and combed straight back. Its oily surface glimmered. The woman was his opposite—blonde, fair, and on the smaller side. I figured one for a Mex, and the other an American.

The 8mm movie was not a stag film. At least it wasn’t a proper one. Instead, it was a movie filming another, as the two individuals at the center of the action appeared to be on some kind of set. Occasional movements of the smaller camera showed shadowy characters in the periphery with lights and a large Mitchell BNCR on a tripod.

“Christ, it’s an entire production,” I said to myself as I let the whisky settle.

When the man finished, he raced out of the scene like a guilty backdoor lover who just heard a husband’s footsteps. The woman tried to sit up but fell down in a heap like she was drunk. Or drugged, I thought. The 8mm film did not have sound, but I got enough of the woman’s panic by watching her eyes grow wide and shift around in her head. She was terrified, but of what I did not readily know until the man in the dark hood entered the room. That scene ended the 8mm movie.

For ten seconds, I saw a glimpse of a man dressed like a medieval monk move towards the blonde woman on the bed. I never saw a gun or a knife or a noose, but I knew the man’s intentions. The woman made a silent scream just as the cigarette burns grew thick and heavy and the 8mm film ended.

I reloaded the film and watched it again. I looked at the faces, but the 8mm director decided to keep just far enough away that I could only get vague outlines. I paid particular attention to the woman and the hooded man. Besides the woman’s blonde hair and angular features, I could not find anything definitive. There was no proof of foul play either, as the hooded man never put hands on the screaming woman. Still, I knew in my liquored-up guts that everything about the movie was wrong. It reeked of death. I reloaded it for a third time and paused every three seconds. I came up empty until the final shot.

Underneath the first cigarette burn, I noticed that the 8mm camera managed to find something white either stenciled or painted on one of the villa’s walls. The image was blurry, but after pressing my face up to the white sheet that Lee used as a makeshift screen, I made out something familiar. I rushed over to the office phone and called Lee’s hotel in Frisco. I knew he would not make it up north for several more hours, but I had the concierge take a message.

“Yes, sir. I will have Mr. McManus call you as soon as he arrives,” the man with the silky voice said.

“Ok, pal.” With that, I hung up and got drunk. I buried myself in whisky and waited for Lee’s call. I fell asleep at some point because the sound of the office telephone woke me up.

“What’s up?” Lee asked.

“It’s the film, Lee.”

“What about it?” I could hear the disappointment in Lee’s voice. He knew I was soused.

“It’s a snuff film except you don’t see anyone die.”

“Then how’s it a snuff film?”

“Because I know the lady in it is dead. Her name is Sharon Silverwood. I acted with her on The Creature from Los Alamos until she went down to Mexico and never returned.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Lee said. “Didn’t you tell me that that dame was a stag picture princess?”

“Yeah. What about it?”

“Women like that are no better than prostitutes, and like prostitutes, they have a bad habit of running away to a new street corner.”

“I know that, but Sharon was different. She was going legit.”

“Sure, sure,” Lee laid on the patronizing tone thick. I hated it.

“Look, I know what I’m talking about, Lee. The woman in the movie is Sharon Silverwood, and they killed her.”

“Who killed her?”

“The studio—Peeper Pictures. I got a still frame of their logo in the 8mm film.”

“Wasn’t that the flim-flam studio you worked for?”


“What ever happened to them?”

“I dunno. Looks like they got into the killing business.”

“Well, Bulldog. If you feel convinced, then follow it up. Just be careful, as you ain’t licensed in this state or any other.”

“Who sent the film, Lee?”

“I can’t say, kid. It did not come through the post, and the letter was not signed.”

“Not a lot to go on.”

“Welcome to my world. Good luck.” With that, Lee hung up the phone and left me in silence. There was a heavy weight that dropped from my heart to my guts. It made me feel sick. The alcohol had something to do with it, but there was much more. Mostly it was from a feeling—a feeling that I had really stepped in it, but I was walking forward anyway.

I got a few hours of bad sleep that night. I woke up after seven and made my way to the Los Angeles County Superior Court. I got there early and prepared to wait a while. I was not disappointed. The clerk in the Records Office did not let me in until 9:45. After hours of listening to winos and crooked lawyers, I was happy to talk to a mousy librarian type about financial documents. She had me fill out a couple of papers. I also had to fork over my driver’s license.

“What are you looking for exactly, Mr. Jones?”

“I am looking for documents concerning Peeper Pictures. I used to work for them, and they still owe me money.”

“I see,” the clerk said. “Would incorporation papers do?”


I stood around and twiddled my thumbs until the clerk handed over a single piece of cream-colored paper.

“That’s all we have on Peeper Pictures. A copy is ten cents.”

“It’s ok. I’ll write down what I need.” I pulled out a penny notebook and copied the address listed on the paper. It was for somewhere in Silver Lake, not far off Sunset Boulevard. I thanked the clerk and told her to look me up sometime. She gave me nothing but coolness and scorn behind horn-rimmed glasses.

I caught the city bus to Silver Lake and hoofed it until I found the place. 1664 Cicero Drive. The place was small but well-furnished. An adobe wall and a wrought iron gate manned the entrance to a Spanish Mission-style bungalow on a small hill. A giant palm tree centered the lawn, and on the fringes were well-tended with colorful flowers. The owner seemed to care a lot about the place.

Beside the gate was a nameplate and an intercom system. The nameplate read “E. Gardner.” I pressed the button and waited for the speaker to come alive. When it did, a masculine voice asked me my name and reasons for being there. I gave the voice a line of half-truths, but I did admit to working on a case for Lee McManus Investigations. The gate was unlooked remotely, and the voice on the intercom promised to meet me at the top of the steps. The voice did not lie; there, after a short flight of stone steps, stood a man in a Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts. His hair was salt and pepper, and his mustache was too.

“A real private eye, eh?”


“I read about you guys all the time, but I guess I never thought you were real.”

“We are.”

He held out his hand. “Ed Gardner.” I shook the hand, which made the gold bracelet around its wrist bounce. The other hand was decorated with a watch with a black leather band. Ed Gardner looked and acted like a car salesman, so I was surprised when he admitted to being a golfer.

“Not a pro mind you. I just run things at the country club is all.” Gardner proved to be the type of bird who spilled the beans without prompting. Within fifteen minutes of meeting him, I learned that he originally came from Ohio, was a radioman in the Navy during the war, and that he first started swinging clubs in grade school. He was deep into his backstory before he even bothered to ask about my business.”

“I am investigating a business—a business that once claimed this residence as their headquarters.”

“What kind of business?”

“A motion picture company.”

“Gee,” Gardner looked around his living room, which was decorated with golf trophies and pictures of him on greens all across Southern California, “Somebody shot movies here?”

“So, I take it you know nothing about Peeper Pictures?”

“Sorry, friend. I got nothing.”

“Ever hear of them before?”

“No, can’t say that I have. What kind of movies did they make?”

“Well, a few years back they made a monster movie called The Creature from Los Alamos. Before that, they specialized in stag films.”

Gardner’s eyes bulged out of his skull. He looked like a drooling cartoon wolf when he asked me to repeat myself. When I did, he whistled.

“They shot nudie movies here? Boy, oh boy.”

“Maybe they did. We don’t care about it, frankly. Mr. McManus is after them for unpaid debts and bum checks. When did you buy this place?”

“I didn’t. I rent. Moved in a little over a year ago. Landlord told me the place had been vacant for a while. Funny thing, though. I couldn’t bring my stuff in for months because of a big cleaning operation.” I perked up. I asked Gardner to elaborate.

“Two big vans were here for weeks. It was like they were handling a crime scene. So many cleaners coming in and out of the place. I didn’t mind, but I also didn’t like staying at the Wyatt Arms for so long. Hotels in Los Angeles are mighty expensive. They did do a good job, though. The place was cleaner than a priest’s mind when I moved in.”

“Is that all you can tell me?”

“That’s it, friend.”

“What about your landlord? I figure he has some dope. Where does he live?”

“Duke Foree? I know where I send my checks every month, but I’m not sure that it is his residence.”

“That’ll do.” Gardner tore off a piece of envelope and wrote an address. I thanked him and hoofed it to the nearest city bus stop. 45 minutes after being picked up, I was in Laurel Canyon. 2423 Green View Place was another Spanish-style house, except this one was much bigger and grander than Gardner’s pad. A small fleet of new sedans were parked out front. Two domestics tended to the garden. For a humble landlord, Duke lived like his namesake. I practiced my rap a little before ringing the doorbell. A third domestic, this one a Filipino, answered. I told him that I was a private detective investigating Peeper Pictures. The butler motioned for me to wait in the foyer. I waited until the same butler used his broken English to guide me to the living room.

There, seated in a big leather chair, was Duke Foree. It took me a second or two, but I recognized him as one of the two heavies from New Mexico. His gun had ruined my wrestling career. I wanted to maim the bastard, but I kept it cool. If Duke had recognized me, he did not show it.

“You’re probably here about Peeper Pictures, right?”

“How did you know?”

“Easy guess. Peeper Pictures is the only interesting thing I have ever been involved with. Helped me to pay for this place.”

“Is the company still around?”

“What are you looking for exactly?” Duke lit a cigarette and blew big rings. He was big timing me. I did not like it.

“Financial irregularities. Bad checks. Uglier stuff, too.”

“Oh, I can believe it. I cut out of Peeper Pictures in 1952.” It was a lie, but I let him go with it. “Last I heard, they changed the name and relocated to Tijuana. Probably did that to disassociate themselves from Art.”

Mr. Art. The name struck me like lightning. Duke told me that Mr. Art was really Art Moustakis. Duke also let me know that Mr. Art was busy serving a ten-year stretch in San Quentin for racketeering and fraud.

“Someone else is running Peeper Pictures, or its successor.”

“Looks that way,” Duke said. I asked him for any information about the new company. He smiled. His row of white teeth made him look like a shark. He looked hungry, too.

“You have to go to Tijuana for that.” Duke punctuated the comment, which included a dark hint of doom, with a blast of smoke. The smoke was directed towards me. I did not react to the intended insult. Instead, I thanked the landlord for his time and made my way back out into the sunshine.

An hour later, I called Lee again. Nighttime had set in. I could hear the creepers and bar crawlers come alive. They shouted to each other about whisky and poontang while I waited for Lee to pick up. When he did, I gave him the dope.

“I got to go to Tijuana, Lee.”

“Are you that hard up for a woman?”

“No, it’s the case. One of the former heavies for Peeper Pictures said the company changed its name and relocated across the border.”

“And you believe him?”

“Maybe, maybe not. I know that this Duke character once shellacked me with a pistol. That was back in New Mexico. He was just a goon then. Now he’s some kind of big shot with a villa in Laurel Canyon. I don’t know, but I have a feeling that all of this is connected to big money.”

“Kid, if it were up to me, you would stay put in Los Angeles. Doing anything in Tijuana is asking for trouble. Besides, this Galton case up here is kind of a dud. Some other gumshoe from Santa Teresa muscled in before I could get any kind of solid agreement. I’m heading home tomorrow. Wait for me?”

“Sure.” I knew I was lying, and Lee knew I was lying too. Still, there was a silent agreement to keep up appearances. Lee hung up, and I put the phone back on the receiver just as some lout outside started singing about a man from Nantucket.


For all installments of “Dig Two Graves,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3