25 November 2008

Story of the Day - Installment 7, Chapter 2

Naps are wonderful things. So I take one. My couch is comfortable for a reason. Long nights can take it out of a man, especially a man of my age. When I wake up, I walk to the small bathroom that adjoins my office. Nothing fancy, just a sink, toilet, and standup shower, all of which I keep immaculate. I know that Jonesy sneaks in from time to time, but even he knows that I'm picky about my bathroom. I shave. No frills, just soap and water. It helps to look professional at all times. When I leave the bathroom I can hear Jonesy typing up a storm in the reception area.

"Hey Jonesy?" I shout through the closed door.

"Yeah," he answers opening the door between the reception area and my office.

"Got any plans for tonight?"

"Just finishing up this paper, but it's not due for another week."

"Wanna help with some survelliance at a local club?" Jonesy is astute. He knows that I want company, but he also knows that he just might make some money hustling pool tonight too.

"Will you front me $50 if there's some tables?"

"I'll front you $50 for 25% of the profit."

"25%? Come on, boss. I'm a poor college kid," he protests. I shut out my office lights and head to the reception area where Jonesy is back sitting and typing

"That may be true kid, but I take the hit if you scratch on the 8-ball. Tell me, which one of us has it worse?" I know what he's thinking. He's considering telling me to go fuck myself and that he'll just stake himself with what I paid him. But Jonesy just doesn't have a gambler's heart. And I've never heard him cuss. In about five seconds he'll decide that I'm offering a good deal.

"Alright, 15% and I'll buy the drinks." It's a crafty counter-offer, preying on my weakness for a good drink. I'm not that easy.

"20% and you still buy the drinks." He gets a thoughtful look on his face as he ponders this new wrinkle. He's faking now. I know he'll do 20% and so does he.

"Alright boss, on one condition. . . ." He leaves it like that, waiting for me to take the bait.

"What's the condition Jonesy?"

"The condition is that you stop calling me Jonesy."

"Done." Poor sap. I'll be calling him Jonesy before the night is through. We both know it. "Grab your coat, Frederick Arthur Jones, we're off to the Pendulum Club. Ever heard of it?"

"Nope," he says as he buttons up his coat. Actually, it's one of my old coats. Jonesy is a damn penny pincher. But I'm grateful. It's probably why I haven't gone bankrupt yet.

"Well it's high class, kid, so look sharp." I put on my coat and grab my hat from the rack. Jonesy locks the door as we head out. I'm a detective. We all wear hats. It's ontological. At least that's what the kid tells me.

"My looks aren't the problem, boss." Ever the smartass.

"Shut up Jonesy."

09 June 2008

Story of the Day - Installment 6, chapter 2

The story so far (and sorry for the delay):
1) installment 1
2) installment 2
3) installment 3
4) installment 4
5) installment 5

When you call the police they usually put you on hold. No joke. Doesn't matter if it's 9-1-1 or a departmental number. I'm on hold for five minutes before Hector finally picks up.

"That you Sloan?" the gravelly basso profundo asks with a hint of annoyance.

"Yeah. Why didn't you tell me the guy was a fucking giant? And meeting in the alley? That was your idea. Damn near pissed my pants when I saw him."

He chuckles, "I get my kicks when I can. He wouldn'ta hurt you anyway. At least not there, and especially not for free."

"Fighter, huh? Figured as much." That explained the hands. "Does he still fight?"

"Professionally, I'm not sure. Used to box pretty regularly, though. I fought him once. And lost," which was saying a lot since Hector was pretty good. "But that was probably seven or eight years ago. He was a young guy, coming up. The rumor is that he bareknuckles these days. Paydays can get to be pretty big. And you saw his face, he's better without the gloves than with 'em. He doesn't lose a lot."

"So fess up. Why'd you send him to me?"

"Look, he's a jerk sometimes but essentially honest. He came to me with a bug in his ass over all the murders at The Pendulum. Aside from bareknuckling, he's a smart guy. He knows when something is fishy." Hector's voice drops. "And something is definitely fishy in this one. Even the detectives know the kid they got locked up didn't do it. They were just waiting for the paper to report it. If someone makes a big enough stink, they'll let the guy go. But that doesn't solve the problem."

That last bit was directed at me. The giant wanted me to get his acquaintance out, and Hector all but confirmed his release was soon. But that still left three corpses unaccounted for. "So what's the deal with this Pendulum club?"

Hector pauses. Either he doesn't know what to say or he's deciding how much to tell me. "It's a popular spot, lots of clientele, tends to run high class, but they get a few misfits now and then. That's one of the reasons Aldo works there."

I cut him off. "Aldo? His name is Aldo. The giant bareknuckle boxer's name is Aldo? You gotta be kidding me."

Hector lets it slide. "You met with the guy and didn't get his name? You're slipping Sloan."

"Hey, he paid me. In cash. We met in an alley for chrissakes. Tell me more about The Pendulum." I pause. For effect. "And Aldo."

"Never been myself," he continues, "so you'll have to stop by if you want to get the feel of the place. I do know that it's owned and run by three women - the triad, they're sometimes called. They had a run-in with the sheriff's department last year. Illegals working in the kitchen or something. No charges, but there's a file. I'll check it and get you their names. You'll probably recognize them - society types, they're in the papers pretty regular. Big into philanthropy and the arts. You know how it goes."

"I'll go check it out tonight. Can you get me the info by tomorrow?"

"Hell Sloan," he chuckles, "I'll bring it by the office later tonight if you want. Shift goes until 11. I'll catch you around midnight. I'll bring the files. You bring the scotch." Call ends. Hector doesn't like goodbyes. He's a dirty old sentimentalist.

But something's bothering me. I hate it when he chuckles.

06 June 2008

Story of the Day - Installment 5

I pay with a $100. All I have. The waitress looks at the bill. Looks at me. Reassessment. I almost want to tell her. No, sweetheart, your first impression was right. But I keep my mouth shut. Why ruin a good thing. I even tip big. Nothing new there. Why I'm broke in the first place.

Outside the rain has stopped. I like rain. Especially when it ain't raining. Gives you a clean feeling. Don't get that much in my line of work. And the smell. I pause. Take it in. Nice.

Like walking too. Of course, that's more a matter of necessity than anything. No car. Besides, the office is close. Thunder starts up just as I reach my building. One of those days I guess. I take the stairs. Exercise is good.

You'd expect my secretary to be some pretty young thing. Pretty hair, doughy eyes, and a body that makes you feel all virile. Why stop there. Fishnets, high heels, and lipstick. Red lipstick. That glistens. Sometimes I wish the stories got it right. But they don't.

"Mail come Jonesy?" I ask as I walk in. Jonesy is not some pretty young thing. Jonesy is Frederick Arthur Jones, graduate student, pool hustler, and dirt poor. Lives with his grandparents, also dirt poor. But honest and hardworking. Loves 'em to death but can't stand 'em at the same time. Hence the bars, pool, and working for me. He's strictly part-time but practically lives in the office. Studies here, writes his papers here, brings his dates here too. Damn awkward sometimes. But he's honest. I need that. Hates it when I call him Jonesy. So of course I do. Every chance I get.

"Yes," he says and tosses me a neat stack rubberbanded without looking up from his book. He's efficient too. Already ditched the piles of crap.

"Bills?" I ask as I take off my soggy coat.

"A couple. They're in there."

"New clients?"




Saves me the time I woulda spent looking through the mail. So I toss it back. "What are you reading?" He catches it. Didn't even lose his place.

"Stuff you wouldn't understand," he says without looking up. Cocky little bastard. Probably right though. "Hector wants you to call him at work. Wants to find out how the meeting went." Hector is 50ish, a former boxer, smart though, works at police headquarters. Answers phones, files papers, keeps track of the detectives and their cases. Used to work for me. Got shot a few years back. Needed health insurance. I couldn't get him any, so I pulled some strings and got him his current job. Hector is honest. Hates corruption. Hates graft. Sometimes, I think he hates me for setting him up with the job. When things looks fishy, he calls me. Set up the meeting with the giant.

"What time is it Jonesy?" I ask.

"'Bout 4:30."

"Can you make it to the bank?" He nods. "Good, here's $950. Deposit five in the business account, figure out what I owe you, and bring me the rest." He throws his book in his bag and grabs his coat. "By the way, how much do I owe you?"

"$197.75, which is damn cheap if you ask me."

"I didn't. Should charge you rent is what I should do." He looks askance. Not the best sense of humor on this kid. "Take two, call it even."

"Gee thanks." Got the sarcasm bit down though.

"If I'm on the phone when you get back, don't interrupt."

"Got it." And the door slams. Kids. Well I guess he's in his twenties but still.

The outer office is tidy. A rule the kid tries to follow but his stuff usually litters the front desk. The inner office, mine, is immaculate. The stories always have papers scattered everywhere, files, newspapers, crap. General untidiness. I hate that. Clients almost expect it. Usually thrown off when they sit down with me. Partly I'm a neat freak, partly I own very little. Medium-size desk with a pen, pad, and phone. That's it. Everything else is in a drawer. Why they exist. Sofa, small and comfortable. Yeah, it has a pullout bed. What can I say? Clean office, dirty life. I sit down, compose myself, dial Hector.

Story of the day - Installment 4

The giant glowers at me a few seconds. Then a deep breath. He appears calmer. I'm not taking my chances. I can wait.

"Look," he says, "there's nothing I can do about the dead. But I can help my friend. You can help my friend. That's what I want. That's what I'll pay you for."

The guy's rich. Slightly creepy. But rich. I'm broke. And. . .that's it. Just broke. "Alright. But I need money up front. Not all of it," I say thinking he'll protest, though he doesn't, "just enough to get started. We'll go from there."

"How much?"

Makes me pause. How much? Good question. I look up. My pondering look. I've done it in the mirror. Looks like I'm doing math in my head. I'm not. Sometimes you gotta play the game.

"A thousand." I say firmly.

He pulls a billfold from his coat pocket. Engraved leather. Can't make out the design. He counts out ten one-hundred dollar bills. Lays them on the table. Crisp. I wait the requisite few minutes. Look him in the eye. Then scoop up the money. Don't want to seem desparate. Too desparate anyway.

"Meet me at my office tomorrow." He nods. "10am?"

"Noon. The club doesn't close till 3." He finishes the coffee. Shifts his massive frame. No movement wasted. Giants don't tend to be lithe. He is. Buttons his coat. Slips on his hat and is out the door. I take a breath. Sometimes the game takes it out of you. I nod to the waitress for another drink. And then it hits me. He left me the tab. Figures.

26 May 2008

Story of the Day - Installment 3

Before he can answer, the waitress is back with the drinks. Cocktails napkins, then the booze, and finally the coffee with its own saucer. Like I said, all business. I pick up mine gently. Give it a swish and let it settle on the tongue. Their cheapest is a damn site better than I've had in a long while. I savor it. Maybe the giant will get the tab.

He's not so delicate. He treats it like a shot. All down at once. One of the reasons I don't like rich people - no manners, no finesse. He puts the glass back on the table. Hard. Then he glares at me. I take my time with the second sip. Good stuff. Finally I set it down. Gently. With a long breath he begins:

"I work at a club, The Pendulum. There have been three murders there in the last six months."

"Yeah, I read about the lastest one," I interrupt to see the effect. Nothing.

"The police have come dutifully each time," he continues. "They look around, interview the customers, the staff. They tell us they'll let us know when they find something. And that's that. The first one they chalked up to inebriation. Drunks getting jealous or something like that. The victim took several powerful blows to the head. A few people saw him in the bathroom. Looked alive. They thought he'd passed out. We didn't figure it out until closing time. By then he was dead."

"The police stick it on anyone?" I ask as the giant sips his coffee. He cradles the cup in between drinks. Figures.

"Not that I know of, no. The victim wasn't a regular. No one remembered him sticking out that night. Except the bartender; remembered because he tipped well, but otherwise he was just another customer. The second was a month and a half ago. A woman this time. We don't actually know if she was killed in the club, but the dish washer found her body out back. She had been stabbed twice. That much was clear. Several people remembered her. She was a bit more, well, memorable. Again, the police came. The whole rigamorole. Everyone questioned. Apparently she had been there alone. No suspects. Nothing."

"No arrests?" I ask incredulously. The giant shakes his head slowly. Surprising trend. In this town, there's always a suspect. Someone always gets pinched. Some poor schmucks even get pinched for imaginary crimes. I take another drink. "I know about the third. Young guy. Stabbed last week. Happened out in the open according to the papers. At a table, yeah?" The giant nods his assent. "The police caught the guy though. Saw his picture in the paper."

"The police have the wrong person," and with this the giant looks me in the eye, "the man they say did it was at the bar that night. But he wasn't with the victim. No where near him in fact. He was with me, out back. We were talking, smoking, wasting time." He leans back - relaxes a bit. "Several people vouched for him in fact, but the police took him in anyway, along with others. The others have all been released, and, as you say, you saw the accused pictured in the paper."

He stops to let me figure out the rest. I take my time. I hate murder cases. They always end bad. Always. But I'm broke. Like usual. They do get that part right in the stories. And it's clear this guy has money to burn. With care, I finish the scotch. Very deliberately my glass finds its way to the table.

"So," I draw it out, "you want me to prove who did it, so-" but the giant won't let me finish. Cuts me off sharply.

"I don't care who did it. Any of it. I want you to prove that my acquaintence didn't do it. That's it. The rest can burn for all I care."

23 May 2008

Story of the Day - Installment 2

You can tell a lot about a guy by his clothes. The giant had nice ones. Pants and shirt were tailor-made. Shoes matched the belt - both were patent leather. His overcoat was nice too, a hell of a lot nicer than mine. And warmer. He moved comfortably in them. He was well-healed. Had been for a while.

"I need a drink. You?" I ask as we pause at the lip of the alley.

"Whatever. Just make it warm," the giant replies. "And clean." Apparently fastidiousness is a fetish for this guy. As we walk I noticed a slight limp. It doesn't seem to faze him. Probably forgot about it long ago. It looked like the type of injury that a comfortable guy like this got playing prep football.

"In here," I motioned him into the second bar we passed. I walked in like I owned the place. But I didn't know the joint. I make it a rule never to meet business contacts at bars I frequent. That's one thing the stories get wrong. The place looked clean. The barkeep had on a tie. The waitresses were good-looking but not young. They knew their business. Despite the rain, the bar was well-lit. Another advantage when meeting with unknown informants. Especially giant ones.

I lead us to a table in the corner and take the seat facing the door. It always seems like a good idea to face the door. Except when you get pinned in by a giant. If things went bad, I'd have to get past the brute. Bad planning. I blame the adrenaline. It's still pumping and I'm consciously keeping my breaths measured. The waitress watches us sit down and then walks over to the table. All business.

"Scotch, neat," I say before she can ask. She looks at me. She looks around. Her rolling gaze forces me to look around too. That's when I notice the detail. The place isn't just nice - it's spectacular. Her eyes stop on the bar. I get the picture. "Whatever's cheap." She rolls her eyes and looks at the brute. She takes in the clothes and the man in a glance. Her expectations rise. "Same," he says, and then adds with that incongruously high voice "with a coffee, black." The eye roll is even worse this time. She saunters off without a word.

While waiting for the drinks, we take each other's measure. I leave my hat on and project quiet confidence. The giant takes his hat off. Pulls out a handkerchief and wipes down his face. The clothes and voice don't match the face. This guy's seen life. The bad part. It's not that he's ugly. Or scarred. But his eyes have seen stuff that make him cringe. Perpetually. It's a haunting look. I look down. Can't meet his eyes. That doesn't happen often.

And then I notice the hands. Fighter's hands. Not recently, but at some point the brute broke people. Noses, jaws, probably ribs. The adrenaline starts up again. I sit up straighter. Look him in the eye. No fear.

"What do you got for me?" I throw out. All business.

22 May 2008

Story of the Day...An installment

The alley was dark. They always are in this kind of story. And damp too. And full of dirty things. The type of things that you wouldn't want to touch without gloves. And there I was in the middle of it. Not too happy to be there all things considered. But what are you gonna do? Fate, that dirty mischevious bastard, puts us in uncomfortable places all the time. You can either get scared and stay home or walk the earth and deal with it. I choose the latter. Most of the time anyway.

So I'm waiting for a guy, a guy with information. I realize it all sounds pretty vague. But that's how I operate. So I'm waiting. And I'm waiting. It's wet. I'm cold. Cigarettes make you look cool, and I love 'em. But they're hell on the hands, and they don't draw worth dick in the damp. Plus, the guy, the one with the information, looks like a no-show. I'll give him a few more minutes then I'm outta here.

A silhouette passes in front of the street. A pause. This might be the guy. He turns down the alley. I tense up and try to keep the adrenaline rush from making me jittery. Happens every time, the adrenaline that is. Makes it hard to think. And hard to focus.

He's cautious. He sees me. But he takes his sweet damn time ambling down to the doorway I've settled in to. As he gets closer, I notice that he's huge. Not the type of guy I'm expecting. Informants tend to be small jittery types, but not this guy. He's a beast, six and half feet tall and broader than professional boxers. The adrenaline kicks up another notch. I drop the cigarette and stub it out, just so my body has something to do other than twitch. I've been in fights, but I've never really taken a good beating. Maybe that'll change.

"You Sloan?" the giant asks in a surprisingly high voice.

"Yeah," I answer. He obviously knows me or he wouldn't be here. The question was a formality. Maybe I won't get pummeled after all.

"Can we go somewhere? This alley's cold." He looks around. "And filthy." He doesn't need to ask twice. I button my coat and gesture for him to lead the way. Guys get pummeled in alleys all the time. At least they do in stories like this. I'll take my chances somewhere more public. And warmer.

08 May 2008

Fuck You World

There are days when I walk in to work - I teach at an amazing yet chaotic alternative/college prep high school - and I just want to scream and go off like it's a mosh pit. One of my students, a freshman at that, got nabbed for burglary and assault. It's not his first felony either, so he'll be doing time. The student in question chose me as his mentor. He checked in with me a couple of times a week, and things seemed to being going well. He had great support from a family member, and he was thriving. But his family seems to be a plague. His brother got caught too; I tried to "save" his brother last year, but he dropped out anyway. It's like I'm headed to a fight with a dead herring.

Then there's the pregnant senior who started the year with everything, I mean everything - she was on track for valedictorian, full-ride scholarships, the works - but she met a fucked up 30 year old pervert whose idea of a good night was to get stoned and have unprotected sex. Now she's pregnant. She quit the weed, but she still smokes a half pack a day. I doubt she'll even start college. Every teacher in the building watched it happen, but we sure as hell weren't passive. We begged and pleaded and cajoled and yelled, and the principal almost went vigilante on the guy; but we were about as potent as a fart in the wind.

Our senior class started out ten strong. We'll be lucky if half make it the last few weeks. It's infuriating. And the freshman are no better. They have no passion. I understand laziness, procrastination even, but there's no love, no elan vital. It's like a lobotomy workshop somedays. And every member of the faculty is an activist of some sort or another, so the student faculty dichotomy is crazy.

Maybe all teachers have these days/weeks/semesters. Which perhaps explains the teacher attrition rate.

But there are bright spots - the student who found her voice in writing, the student who is getting his diploma because of his two year old daughter, the unexpected acting class which has saved a few of the students who would have drifted away. We have our moments, not many, but we have them.