By: Antwan Crump
I drink whiskey. The strong stuff straight from the source. The micks bring it in from their homeland every few months, or so. Good stuff–the kind that makes your stomach bubble on the way down and burns on the way out. Solid beverage…even though it gives me nightmares and milky shits.
I imagine that if I’d ever needed it in a pinch it could clean a wound. At worst, I’d go numb there. Makes sense. Works well enough on my insides. If I die, God–please let it be a bullet hole or a bottle of Irish glory that does me in. Not a two-bit pickpocket with a kitchen knife or a gallon of that bathtub bullshit. I deserve better. Not much. But better.
I wake up from my whiskey nap at eleven on the dot. There’s no need to check the clock. I can tell by the direction of the whirring police sirens as they barrel down Lyme Street and onward to Crimson Alley. Yep. Eleven on the dot. Thank you, nightmares. You never let me down.
I’d swung my feet up onto the desk as I laid canopy style in my rolling chair. Looks like I knocked a few things over. There goes the last of that mick whiskey. It’s no matter. I can afford the loss. I reach over to my breast pocket and pat it to make sure the check’s still there. It is.
I pull it out like a kerchief and unfold it in the light. Blank, just like she promised. “Etta Green,” I mumble against the aftertaste of my fallen whiskey. It’s still good–just a little sour. Then again, that might just be me.
I contemplate filling the empty line on the check with a number followed by as many commas and zeros as I could fit without it looking phony. P.I. or not, I have a distrustful face. Bankers don’t like it. I barely do.
I stare at the check for a while and fantasize. I could do worse than a fresh start on a nice island with some hula-baby that doesn’t know the language. Shit, I probably can’t do much better. Then again, I’m impatient and I hate coconuts. It’d be a Catch-22 in the devil’s favor.
I fold the check back up and return it to the pocket right above my heart. Another fleet of badged bastards pushes past my second-floor window doing twice the speed limit. It’s time to go. Just as well. The fantasy’s gone bad anyway.
I plant my feet on the floor and take my first glance at the clock. Eleven fifteen. Not bad. Forty-five minutes until we see just how serious ‘Mr. Lovenote’ takes himself. At best, he’ll have chickened out. At worst…well, we only know what he’s promised. Speculation aside, it’s time to go.
I pull open my desk drawer and listen to the loose rounds scurry about like a sack of squirrels. The smell of wax and copper fill my nose as I reach in for my gun. “Hello, Lucy,” I greet her and check her insides.
“You’re nearly empty, baby. Let daddy fix it.” I swirl my hand around the drawer and pick the four prettiest looking rounds to fill Lucy. I slam her closed. “All better.” Not many men love their guns like I do. Then again, most men don’t depend on their weapon daily. Maybe more should. I’d ask why some don’t, but it’s got a built-in answer.
I shove Lucy into her holster and grab a few extra rounds. They’re less pretty, but they’ll do the job. Pop-pop’s not picky. A third fleet booms by my window. I shoot my eyes at the clock. Twenty after. I’m getting slow. I tell myself that the world’s just getting quicker. Who cares? As long as bullets still draw blood.
I stand. Wobbly, but I can manage. I take a final look at the ransom note before leaving.
‘Sincerely, Satan,‘ it says. I laugh and hope that it’s really him. “Imagine what the world will say when they find out you write like shit, Satan”. I grumble. I smirk and hold in the chuckle. I amuse myself.
I grab the note with the same hand that I’m holding the bullets in and head over to the door. I stop at the coat rack. I drop Lucy’s dinner along with the shit-script in my coat pocket. In one swoop, it’s off the rack and on my back.
I toss on my grey fedora to complete my “dirty-lawman” aesthetic, then reach for the light switch to turn off a bulb that isn’t there. I laugh at myself. The same chuckle I’d choked on earlier.
“Damn.” I grip the knob and open the door. As per my ritual, I look back and memorize how I’d left the office. “Getting bad aren’t we?” I whisper to the ghost of my younger self. How long has it been out this time?
It’s hard to tell the difference nowadays. Light and dark. Dark and light. In these eyes, it’s all the same.
I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere. I’ll leave that to the scholars.
I don’t give a shit.
I close my door and don’t bother locking it. No one chooses to be here. No one, but me and… I can’t help but laugh again. “Satan…”
I’ve got to hand it to him.
That’s a good one.
I drive, even though I shouldn’t. A lime green Cadillac with the spares just above the front tire. Nothing fancy, but it’s mine. I’d kill to keep it that way. The streets are moist and cracked to shit. I pray my tires will hold. If not, I’ve got back up. Time won’t be as forgiving.
I crack open the door and look both ways down the road. No reason in particular. At this point, it’s just habit. The streets look empty. Too empty. I shrug it off as the fault of the coppers charging through here like Hitler’s army. Bunch of baby-faced mooks, if you ask me.
Fair enough. Most people around these parts are guilty of something. As far as I’m concerned, they just did me a favor. Dead roads should shave a few minutes off of my drive. At least, it would, if I’d ever driven under the speed limit. Pull me over boy-blue, I dare you.
I get in and slam the door shut. I settle my ass in the seat and my hands on the wheel. Rawhide, so it slithers into the skin. It becomes more a part of me than my socks and underwear. We’re one. I start my engine and let the vibrations tickle my nutsack. It’s not sexual, it’s meditative.
A pair of headlights shine behind me. I don’t think much of it. Probably just more cops. I squint and adjust my rearview mirror. Too loud for the drop. Amateurs or stander-bys. I pet Lucy to calm her itchy trigger.
My eyes fixate on them on as they pull down the road. They’re slowing down. I don’t like it. I reach for Lucy, roll down my window, and wait.
They double park at my door. I can’t get out. I pull back on Lucy’s hammer and grin. If they move funny, one of them is coming to hell with me. The passenger rolls down his window. He tips his hat. I show him Lucy. They crap their pants.
“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Buddy!” The driver screams. He looks panicked–red-faced. He must be the sidekick. The passenger’s calm. I’ll talk to him.
“Who the fuck are you?” I roar with everything I’ve got to let them know I’ve killed before and, in fact, I’ve been desperate to do it again. I curl my face and cock my eyes at the panicked one. Lucy picks a head. She likes the calm one. Good girl. “Answer me!” I growl.
“Now, now,” the passenger speaks. He’s too cool, I don’t like it. Should’ve brought more rounds. “There’s no need for violence, Detective Benson. We come in peace.”
“Plan on leaving that way?”
“As a matter of fact, we’d prefer it.” He places his pistol on the dashboard–followed soon after by his hands. He looks at the driver…so does Lucy. Good girl. The driver does the same and does his best to look tough behind the tears. I take a better look. Freckles. Tight skin. No U‘s under his eyes. Just a kid. The jury’s out on the gender.
“What do want, slim?” Lucy likes this one. “I’m short on time.”
“Then allow me to be brief…I believe that you’ve already made the acquaintance of a woman by the name of Etta Green?”
“Possibly. What’s it to you?”
“Not that I matter, but I’d like to extend you a formal ‘cease and desist’ before the situation gets out of hand.”
I slide my favorite finger into Lucy, “For who?”
“For you…Detective.” He’s getting wise, better remind him which end of the barrel he’s on.
“Is that a threat?” I’m calm. Steady heart. But, he doesn’t know that. Lucy picks a spot between Slim’s eyebrows. I smell urine. Tart, but fresh. Slim just pissed himself. “I don’t like threats.” Suddenly, he remembers and won’t soon forget.
“No!” Slim rattles his head left and right like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. “Not a threat, detective. A warning” I growl, he leaks and proceeds “…I–I mean. It’s complicated.”
I bite my teeth together. I taste blood, whiskey, and hints of Slim’s piss. Now, I’m agitated. “Uncomplicate it!” I ready Lucy for action.
“The woman’s trouble, detective. We are simply agents of order.”
“Whose order? Who do you work for?”
“Apologies…I can’t say.”
“Then it sounds like you’re wasting my time.” I unclench my jaw. “Move!”
Slim takes a gulp of air like a bass in water and orders his shit-smelling cohort, “On then, Jonathan. We’re done here.” I let Lucy follow their scent as they inch forward and pick up speed.
No plates. Why am I not surprised? No time to analyze. I check my watch.
“Fuck!” I punch my horn and pull away from the curb. Let’s just hope Satan’s yellow.
I get to Sheryl’s Pier and see the flash of police lights before the lurking crowd of spectators. Boys in blue beat me to it. I’ll have to play nice. I take a glance at my wrist. It’s a quarter after. I’ll have to wait until they’re done muddying the bitch up. I’m sorry, Etta.
I park my car in an alley, where it’s out of the way. They won’t stop me. They’re too well versed in my war and want no part of it. Still, not much that I can do behind bars for a night.
I get out of my car and light a cigarette. Should’ve brought coffee. I’ll be here a while. May as well check the scene while I’m anonymous. I sneak away from the Caddy and do some groundwork.
Most guys my age hate the stuff. I hate the stuff. But, it gets results more often than not. It just takes patience. I’ve got nothing but time to kill. I decide it’s best to search for their escape routes. Worst it could do is tell me where they’re not.
A few seconds of wandering and boom. Paydirt. Shaky tire marks are imprinted on the ground. Soft ridges. You can tell by the pattern. Squiggly like a jazz note. They’re driving something foreign. Go figure.
The tire marks spin out through the sand and onto the main road before the soot runs out and I’ve got nothing to follow but fumes. They went right. Good enough. I toss the fag and light another. Moderation can kiss my ass. I’ve got a long wait.
I peel off into the closest alleyway to puff my cancer stick in peace. I breathe it in slow–deep enough to fill my lungs a few times over–and let the smoke eek out as it chooses. God damn cops. Always making me wait. I force out the rest of the smoke and gear up to take another long pull.
It’s better this way, I tell myself. Like desert before dinner or liquor on an empty stomach. Let’s just get right to the chase, Satan. If that is your real name. Doubtful. I rest my head on the edge of the brick building and fill my body again. Smoke’s good. Like dry snow.
“You’re late, detective.” The woman’s voice shoots from the shadows like some sultry specter. Echoey and faint, but it’s real. I don’t panic. I don’t grab Lucy. If she wanted me dead, I wouldn’t be thinking. Probably just wants to cuddle.
“How do you figure?”
“It was midnight…wasn’t it?”
I think it’s Etta. No. Can’t be. No rosy smell. Even an hour long bath couldn’t wash that crap off. A friend? Maybe. I wonder if she’ll talk. “…It was. Unfortunately, I had some pressing business to attend to. Didn’t think I’d miss much.”
“No…I suppose that you didn’t. Just a dead woman.”
“Hmm…” I take that pull from my cigarette. “So, Satan killed the girl?”
“Yes. And he’s doubled his price for what remains of Albert.”
“Albert Green?” I ask like I don’t know. It’s best to keep her talking and confident. Lure her to the dance floor, then lead. Just like daddy taught me.
“Yes.” She’s not sure if I’m me. Good.
“What’s left of him?” A bag drops just beside my feet. I hear it squish and roll a bit before settling near my heel. “What’s…” She’s gone. Nothing but smoke and shadows. I was done with her anyway. Looks like I’ve got a buddy.
I finish my cigarette and let a few of the cop cars pass me before reaching down. I don’t know who’s watching. Best not to look desperate. I toss the wick and bend down. It’s a clear plastic bag. Moist from the rain. Dirty from the mud. And, oh yeah…
There are thumbs in it. Male.
Looks like Satan’s a man of his word.
I need some fucking coffee…
Luke Benson will return in…
Episode #3: Pier Review