H Is For Homicide Page 60

At four, much to my relief, he decided we'd done enough. I'd been at the wheel for the first couple of accidents. Then Raymond had taken over. He found an on ramp for the 405 and headed south, toward the apartment. I felt like a traveling salesperson, on the road with my boss. My questions to Raymond had the same banal thrust you'd imagine from a Fuller Brush trainee. ’’What's your background for this?’’ said I, much as if I were inquiring about his qualifications for a career with Encyclopaedia Britannica.

’’Some guy taught me the business when I was first starting out. He's in the slammer, so it's my operation.’’

’’Like a promotion.’’

’’Yeah, right. Exactly. I got a stable of doctors and attorneys who do the actual paperwork. I'm strictly supervision. Times are slow I do a little work like this. I like to keep a hand in.’’

’’Your job is what, supplying the claimants?’’

’’Well, yeah. What do you think we been doing all afternoon? Right now, I got a crew of ten, but that goes up and down. It's hard to get good help.’’

I laughed. ’’I bet.’’

’’I'll tell you a little secret. And this is the key to sound business management. Be careful of the guy right below you on the pyramid. You don't tell him jackshit.’’

’’Because he might want to take over?’’

’’That's right. He's the dude wants to put a knife in your back. You take Luis. I love the guy like a brother, but certain things I don't tell him, people he doesn't see. That way I don't have to worry, know what I mean?’’

’’The money must be good.’’

Raymond shook his head. ’’Are you kidding? The money's great. I make maybe a thousand a case, depending on the nature of the 'injury.'The GP or the chiropractor probably clears another fifteen hundred.’’

’’God, that's amazing. What do they do, pad the fees?’’

’’Sometimes they do. Or they charge for services never rendered. The insurance company doesn't know the difference, and either way, the doc makes out. Plus, you have the attorney on top of that,’’ he said. He smiled wryly. ’’Of course, the biggest chunk goes to me.’’

’’Because you take all the risks?’’

’’Because I put up all the dough. Bankroll the cars, pay all the cappers up front. I probably shell out five or six grand per crew to get 'em rolling. Multiply that by ten, twenty crews working seven days a week? It adds up.’’

’’Sounds like it,’’ I said, and let the subject drop.

A long silence followed. I still didn't have a fix on the mental arithmetic, but the money was clearly huge. I laid my head back against the seat. It wasn't hard to see the appeal. For a guy like Raymond, the money was a lot better than an honest day's work. Hell, I could make more money crashing cars than I did as a P.I. Of course, there was a downside. With all the bumps, smacks, and minor episodes of whiplash, my head was pounding and my neck was seizing up. I massaged the muscles along one shoulder, feeling tense.

’’What's the matter?’’

’’My neck's stiff.’’

’’You and me both,’’ he said in a moment of self-mockery. He looked at me closely. ’’For real?’’

’’Raymond, we've just been in four auto accidents! That last one we had, I nearly slid off the seat. You could have warned me.’’

’’You want to see a doctor? I can set it up. Heat treatments, ultrasound, anything you want. It's one of the perks.’’

’’Let me see how I feel when we get back to the apartment. Where's Bibianna? I hope I'm not the only one out here risking my neck.’’

’’Her and Luis are doing a drive-down same as us.’’

’’Good. I'm glad to hear it.’’

He looked over at me, trying to gauge my mood. ’’You like it so far?’’

’’It sure beats working for a living.’’

He flashed a smile, eyes returning to the road. ’’Doesn't it?’’

We stopped briefly at Buddy's Auto Body Shop across the street and two doors down from the apartment where Raymond lived. The garage itself sat in one corner of a property that extended from street to street. In the far corner, there was a corrugated metal shack surrounded by chassis, fenders, bumpers, engines, tires. A dilapidated chain-link fence enclosed maybe two full acres of wrecked cars and assorted parts. A sign read: BUDDY'S AUTO SALVAGE OPEN 6 DAYS TOP $$ FOR YOUR CAR OR TRUCK. ONE OF THE LARGEST SELECTIONS OF USED PARTS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. A big black rottweiler, with a head as craggy as a tree stump, was asleep in the dirt beside a pickup truck.

I said, ’’Does Buddy work for you?’’

’’I'm Buddy. Guy runs the place is Chopper. Back in a minute,’’ he murmured as he got out. Raymond apparently operated his ’’repair’’ business in conjunction with an auto wrecking and salvage company, probably dismantling vehicles once he'd maximized the insurance potential.

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