JEFF SPENCER GIFTS US WITH THIS GEM
This week I have something old. Next time I’ll have something new. I’m aged enough that I might be living on borrowed time. But I’m not blue. Because I’m not writing about that which shall remain nameless but which rhymes with drivel bore pooh.
I was watching an old episode of 77 Sunset Strip– there’s no other kind – called “Mr. Goldilocks.” It was a typical episode; private eye’s on a case that he manages to solve in 60 minutes – of 40, if you zap through the commercials on your DVR. This week PI Jeff Spencer was trying to recover some jewels which had been stolen while they were being transported from a Palm Springs show back to Los Angeles. Spencer tracked the thief, Abern Wills, into the desert and got shot in the arm for his troubles. Which was just the beginning of his troubles.
The wounded Jeff stumbled through the desert until he chanced upon the cabin of Luther and Willie Lee Hanks, a grizzled father and dim-witted son who were looking for a lost gold mine and were just a burro shy of hitting the prospector cliché trifecta. Luther’s daughter, Polly, used a first aid kit to treat Jeff’s wound. Then she promised that when she got home, she’d call Jeff’s partners at 77 Sunset Strip to come and get him, because, unlike the cabin, her house had a phone.
Yes, I said “her house.” See, Polly didn’t live with her father. She was married and lived with her husband; you guessed it Abern Wills. She had no intention of calling Jeff’s partners there on the Sunset Strip. Instead, she and Abern planned on going to the Hanks’ cabin the next day, after the Hanks resumed their search for the lost mine, and kill Jeff, so they could enjoy the proceeds of Abern’s jewel theft.
What they didn’t reckon on was that Luther, like most proud papas, had a picture of Polly’s wedding in his cabin; a picture Jeff saw. Jeff recognized Polly’s husband as the jewel thief and realized he had been set up. So, when Polly and Abern returned, Jeff was hiding under the cabin. Polly stayed at the cabin, while Abern walked into the desert to look for Jeff.
After Abern left, Jeff tried to get to Polly’s car to escape, but she shot at Jeff and he stopped. Then Polly held Jeff at gunpoint. She intended to keep Jeff prisoner until Abern returned and killed him, but she only kept him until he escaped and really did flee into the desert. Abern went after him.
Jeff wandered around the desert; well not for forty days and forty nights. Not even for forty minutes, even if you didn’t speed through the commercials on your DVR. But he did wander around long enough to start talking to himself. Then start talking to the vultures, because, if he was talking to them and not himself, he wasn’t crazy; which is kind of a self-defeating distinction. He also wandered around long enough for one night to pass and for Polly to bring Abern a dinner of cold chicken and some more water.
The next day, Abern caught up with Jeff. They fought. Due to his weakened state, Jeff lost. Then, as Abern was talking toward Jeff to kill him, Abern troped and fell down the shaft of the lost gold mine to his death. (And who didn’t see that coming. This episode had more Chekhov’s guns than that Star Trek episode where Kirk, Chekov, and crew relived the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.)
Jeff went back to Luther’s cabin and told the prospectors he had to take Polly in for attempted murder, but not where the lost mine was. (Seems a trite and true dust storm blew up, disorienting Jeff and preventing him from marking where the mine was.) Luther wanted to help his daughter so he gave Polly a gun and had her shoot the arms off a cactus to prove she was a crack shot. If she had wanted to kill Jeff, she would have. She was shooting to scare not to kill, so it wasn’t attempted murder. Jeff promised he would mention this to the judge, which, Jeff being an honorable 50s private investigator hero, I’m sure he did. After which, the judge…
…sentenced Polly to several years in prison for attempted murder. Not to mention conspiracy to commit murder and kidnap. See, it doesn’t matter that Polly might not have been trying to kill Jeff when she shot at him, she was still guilty of attempted murder.
What Polly intended doesn’t matter, because what Abern intended was more than enough to convict her. Abern followed Jeff into the desert and shot at him a few times – and Abern was shooting to kill, he was just a member of that hoary villain cliché, the gang who couldn’t shoot straight. Then Abern was about to beat Jeff to death but forgot to mind his step then mined his step. So Abern did commit the crime of attempted murder.
Polly helped him do this by, if nothing else, bringing him that cold chicken dinner and extra water so he could keep looking for Jeff to kill him. Which means Polly was an aider and abettor to Abern’s attempted murder. She was just as guilty of the attempted murder as Abern was.
It didn’t even matter that Abern wasn’t convicted of attempted murder; what with him being dead and all, that would have been overkill. Under the aider and abettor law, an accomplice can be convicted of aiding and abetting the principal offender’s crime, even if the principal offender is never convicted. You might say Polly’s conviction and sentence was a fate accomplice.
At the story’s end, Luther and Willie Lee went back to looking for the lost gold mine. Jeff went back to his offices at 77 Sunset Strip and his next adventure. And Polly went to prison. Where, I understand, she asked that her cellmate be a woman who became a prostitute to raise money to buy drugs. Because – and all together now – Polly wants a crack whore.