Wasn’t much left to say. Couldn’t put the words together that would make it right. That would make it anything. Situations like that? You couldn’t pull them back, couldn’t shove some niceties into the void and make someone whole again. The only proper recourse was to scatter to the wind and never never look back. At least, that is what I think Jake was getting at when he made that speech. There in the deserted parking lot on Woodman Terrace. Behind the bodega and across from the bordello. In that spot where nobody parked any machinery because there was never any room around the trash heaps and human garbage.

We had lost Ned that night. Lost him to the bottle and the pills and that ass with the charming voice and the polished shoes. It was bad enough to have a friend die on you. To stare at their limp corpse as it washed ashore or was torn up by gunfire. Hell, I’ve even watched a man torn in half by dogs and a car in an ironic order. But the way Ned went out, giving it up for a church? Christ. Just. Fucking Christ, that hit hard.

So Jake gave his speech and we went our ways. I did what I could between then and now. The odd jobs. The subcontracted pig-shit work that never pays more than a quarter of the risk. Then I get a letter. From Jake. He needs me to come back to The City. Needs me to to meet him in that place on Woodman Terrace. Needs me to help him bury Ned a second time.

So I went back.

The City. After a few years you forget the truth of it. The gut-punch of smells and sounds that leave you on the ropes and heading for the canvas. It is a sinister place with high towers and bright lights that cast deep shadows. I can never tell if it is more cold or wet. Record blizzards and a desert not more than thirty miles south. It is the kind of place the reaper would vacation if he didn’t work there twenty-four/seven. Piss buckets of drizzle come down from every landing and fire escape and wash into the sluices that dot the town like liquor stores.

I meet Jake outside of the bordello– now boarded up and reeking of the kind of excess that might as well have a man outside yelling “Crack den”– he’s gotten old in the last few years. But which of us hasn’t. “Jake,” I say.

“Sam,” he replies.

He gives me the skinny of it. Ned did good in the church. Worked his way up from street junkie to deacon to pastor to some kind of big deal figure-head position. Jake never left The City, he just went deep underground. He kept waiting for a chance to get Ned out. But that time never came.

“So what am I doing here? What are we doing here?” I try to stifle the words but they are already out there, out there in the air looking at me with that expression. You dumb shit, they say. You know better than to ask that. And on cue, Ned, now Cardinal Ned of the 6th Viceroy comes out of the parking lot where we split up years ago. He’s flanked by the kind of goons you can only get when you are spending someone else’s money. He has a big gold ring on one finger and a grin that makes me wish I had done the drinking and the pills. He waves an arm and Jake gets cut down before he can say, “But I thought we had a deal.”

Cardinal Ned holds up a hand and walks forward, swings a robed arm around me. “Good to see you Sam, good plan, getting out of town. Makes you a rare find out here; a fresh face I can trust. How would you like a job?”

I put it down real clear and easy for him. “I would love a job, your eminence.”

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The Iron Horse

17Apr14

There were all the usual smells. The stink of the pavement, the acrid hue of smoke, the unwashed masses, the fear sweat of children and desperate parents. There were the usual sounds. The whistle of steam, the sighing of hotter bodies detaching from colder ones, the background chatter of a hundred half-rehearsed goodbyes. There were the usual sights. The black and rust of the track and the train, the overcoats of commuters and the uniforms of those shipping out, the frantic dance on the platform of those trying to board and avoid the rain at the same time.

Then there were the unusual smells. The out of place sounds. The unheard of sight of me standing there with roses in hand waiting to greet somebody I cared about.

And, of course, she was late.

Not by a few hours, not in the missed her connection and will be showing up on the next express. She was dead. Cause was pretty obvious, she had been cut up something fierce. Not a single easy wound, nor a dozen. They had clubbed her in the head and then wrote out a message to me on her body. Died of blood loss before the porter found her.

“Nothing like the beach in San Juan,” it said. “You know who,” it was signed. “Shame, she was a helluva looker,” it postscripted. Large block letters. No real talent with the blade. Probably because the man who wrote it was missing three fingers on either hand. Nothing but thumb pinky. I thought I had taught that bastard enough of a lesson. I figured he would take the hint.

This time I’m not going to be so subtle.


There was something about Jerry Moorduk. Not his name, which was not the best, certainly. But there was a twinkle to the man, a kind of magic that few could escape. He was known outside The City, which was perhaps not spectacular, as many of The City’s criminals were known far and wide, but Moorduk was known despite his relatively low status and relatively poor scores.

Moorduk was not a criminal, not in his opinion. And where so many others might simply play up the act of such a thing, Moorduk actually believed it. His M.O. was to work a relatively affluent area of town in a well trafficked area and ‘request’ that people who walked by him remove their coats or pants or hand him their purses and bags. He would then innocently find their wallets take their money and be kind enough to hand back their clothing.

The first time he pulled the job he was arrested. The first few times, actually. His brother, the inheritor of all of the brains of the family, surely, was a bit of a huckster a conman and somehow a licensed attorney. He talked courtroom after courtroom into releasing Jerry on grounds that no crime had been committed. Indeed, Jerry was a Samaritan, kindly returning ‘found’ items to those that had lost them. He wasn’t simply a model citizen but something of a hero.

The City is a strange creature. Once his actions were pardoned by the general community it became an enterprise, and any enterprise works best when it is properly advertized and monetized. Moorduk, esq spread the word and soon tourists from around the world would stop by Jerry to get ‘helped’ and a photographer took up shop nearby, kicking back a fee for the privilege, of course. The take was never very large but was remarkably steady. And to keep the brand pure, Moorduk, esq was quite litigious in nailing any copycats that cropped up talking courtrooms of well meaning citizens into prosecuting others for the very crime he claimed his brother couldn’t be committing because it certainly could not be a crime.

A newspaper story became a book became a film. Moorduk and Moorduk, esq retired to an island.

Crime does not pay. Remember that.

But performance art will always find an audience. Always.


From the outside, being a detective may seem all action, adventure, and dames. But it has its ups and downs like any job. But if you are realistic, if you are honest with yourself, you have to admit it has a lot more downs than ups. Detectives are not known for their cheery demeanor, that’s what I’m saying. You don’t wake up one day and decide that shaking down scum for answers to find missing persons and baubles is the career for you. Not by chance. Most of us start with personal trauma and spiral downward from there.

Some days you solve the case. You play rough with the right lowlife in the right bar and end up with the payoff of a few bruised ribs, a torn knuckle, a shiner, and a per diem that puts you just above board when all is said and done. There might be a tawdry affair in the middle and you might get to shoot somebody who really deserves to be shot, but you do the job to keep what happened to you from happening to someone else.

Some days you don’t get that far. Some days you see all the clues a minute late. You trust your gut too much or too little. Your timing is off and by the time you put it all together everybody has died and the bad guys have won. Those are the tough days. The harder drinking days. Events that leave you shoving yourself so far into yourself that you can’t come back out the other side.

Then there are the cases that don’t have either kind of day. Cases the simmer in the back of your mind. Cases that you refuse to give up on even after the client has. Cases that are not just pro-bono but tax your very soul. Cases you have that leave you more husk than man. And this was one of those. A case that couldn’t be put to bed. The answers were all out there, in the vast crevices and seedy firmament of The City.

What profit is it to a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Three dollars a day plus expenses, that is the price for a man like me. That is the price of a detectives soul.


“Welcome” read the sign above the gabled entrance to the gardens outside of the stately Monolith Towers, a surprisingly misnamed cluster of eight towers in the heart of The City. It was here, in this sprawling garden of highrise apartment buildings that Jill Capston found herself rather frightened of the possibilities of what could be the next chapter of her life. A life that needed a new chapter badly. Born poor, death of parents, a nasty attack that left her scarred, and subsequent abuse from foster care, orphans, priests, a bellhop, several boyfriends, and an eager, but ultimately facile, sailor had all combined to leave her a shell of a human. An empty space that others seemed to need to fill with their demented dreams, hopeless rage, and bodily secretions.

It was not surprising, then, that Jill Capston had moved further into the heart of The City with each subsequent relationship and terrifying encounter with all that could be wrong with humanity. She was a blood cell in the great arterial avenues of the megalopolis of crime and despair so why not move to the very center? Or so she thought. And then, would add, not as an afterthought but rather with a menace to her stormy grey eyes, to clot there. To clot and throw the whole mess into the kind of tachycardia that results in a nasty and painful death.

The eight towers of the singularly ridiculous Monolith Towers were not even spaced or arranged geometrically in the Thistle Gardens. The gardens themselves were also misnamed and contained no thistle, but unlike the Towers, the lack of thistle was a welcome mistake.

Jill was to be housed in Tower Six, which had fallen into some amount of disrepair, much like the rest of the grounds and buildings. Here, the X had faded away leaving her feeling a bit European to live in Tower Si, which gave her a sudden festive jolt and she pivoted on a heel in a tiny pirouette before the entrance. The apartment she was moving into had been bought and paid for, a settlement from a recent unsavory encounter with Bryce Vedder, son of the councilman by the same name and the scandal of which was swept away by providing Jill with housing ad infitum. Which was a welcome relief from being threatened with death or dismemberment, but even scum has a gradient pecking order and some scum was as decent as scum could become. The creme del la scum. King shit. However you might want to put it.

It was hardly a penthouse, this new apartment, but it was not rat infested and it was two rooms and a terrace. The terrace looked out on Thistle Gardens and provided an interesting panoramic of the surrounding buildings. Jill was surprised at how much she could see from the twentieth floor and was also surprised by how much she had stopped experiencing that ache of vertigo that had so paralyzed her form her early days. It is fascinating what traumas will replace other traumas as the brain decides which shit to be broken over and which bits to let go in an attempt to function through a tirade of negative stimuli.

Thistle Gardens, as Jill would discover, was not just the heart of The City in terms of geography but also the very soul of the place. The history woven through the bricks and denizens of that fateful set of apartments was the history of The City itself, a macrocosm of everything that happened in the areas around.

And Jill was quite the expert at digging into the past and surviving the clumps of awfulness that could be found there, lurking, waiting for a voice.

 


Irascible

19Feb14

You.

You didn’t just screw the pooch on this one, you went out and bought a pre-screwed pooch and then opened the damn box and did your best to fake surprise.

Mistake one, you let them talk you into a snatch and grab at a high security warehouse where the smashing was more driving a bulldozer through a gate and the grabbing was more carefully placing several tons of equipment on a truck.

No, actually, mistake zero, the prequel to this whole thing, is that you showed up to the damn meeting in the first place. Because you honestly knew better. You knew what the crew would be like. You knew that you would be in over your head and given the role of fall guy from the get go.

Mistake two, you were the only guy there who managed to get seen. The only guy that manged to not wear a mask. The only guy who didn’t wear gloves. The only guy that got left behind as the truck screamed into the night.

Of course, you are also the only one wearing a wire. The only one who made a deal before the meet with every agency in the bowl of alphabet soup. They should have thought about where you got the pre-screwed pooch. They should have noticed that your feigned surprise had a twinge of humor beneath it.

They should have realized that you don’t make that many mistakes. Nobody is that incompetent.


Management

16Nov13

There was still no word on the weather. Rondald Simms stared at the end of the bathtub and sighed that deep guttural sigh of his. The sigh that indicated his disgust, his laze, and his gastric distress. And gastric distress was only the first of his issues. Ronald Simms was a man with problems. And those problems were about to come barging through his door with weapons drawn and warrants at the ready.

Simms had started life as a longshoreman. Some thirty years ago he would sling a pack over his shoulder and march down to the docks to offer up his blood and sweat for room and board. Sometimes not even both. As these stories go it would be the time you would say at least the work was honest, but Simms knew that it wasn’t. The work he did wasn’t just dishonest. It was not the little white lie of criminal work, he was in the deep end. Often as not he was unloading humans. And those humans were not long for the world, sent into labor camps and mining towns where the law was too thin or too corrupt to stop.

Twenty years ago he moved up to managing a warehouse. Then two, then three, then he controlled enough of the dock that he could afford to be pushy with the Five Heads when it came to rates and time frames. He hired a hundred men like the one he had once been. He paid them shitty wages and, taking a lesson from the mining town, lashed their souls to the company ledger so that many of them owed him more money going than they had coming in.

Simms was a bastard of the capital sort and was a proud smug bastard on top of it.

Ten years ago he sold the waterfront to the city in exchange for political power. He won a seat as a state senator which he used to bend and curtail the shipping laws until he owned every port on the seaboard. Not in name, of course, but they were is and everyone knew it.

Five years ago he traded in the local senate seat for a federal one. And then he found out that he was not the big man. He was not the mako on the hunt in a world full of clown fish. He was just another chunk of chum in the ocean of corruption that was the Senate. He tried to maneuver, tried to out talk, out con, out sleaze but by the end of his first term he found himself holding the bag for a dozen deals that made his control of The City docks look like peanuts.

He retired from office. But one doesn’t escape from certain burdens so easily. And Ronald Simms sat in his great marble tub waiting to hear about a shift in the weather he sighed and groaned. His naked, flaccid, flabby body peaking up in places between soap bubbles and the sounds of state and federal agencies breaking down every door in the house waiting to take him to justice.

He closed his eyes and gripped the radio. He wanted to go out with some good news, but Benny Parker’s mellow baritone and lively piano would have to suffice.