Monthly Archives: March 2020


            Older women pull my trigger.

            I mean that metaphorically, of course.  It’s just plain true that I have always gone for women who have a few years on me.  A friend told me it was my Oedipal complex.  That’s where you kill your father and marry your mother and end up ripping your eyeballs out.  What a load of Times Square Rolexes that is.  I was never attracted to my mother.  She was a narcissistic drunk with a fully-loaded subconscious.  No way was I ripping my eyes out over her.  The whole idea was getting away from her before she got her own long-nailed thumbs in my sockets.

            Frankly, it’s probably a case of too rich a fantasy life mixed with too much modern media.  Most guys want Hillary Duff.  I want Julie Andrews.  Forget Alicia Keyes.  Where’s Phylicia Rashad?  I dream about all the moms on all the sitcoms.  And no, don’t go back to that Oedipus thing.  I just think women are more interesting when they’ve had enough time to do some interesting things.  If some guy would rather be on a desert island with Jessica Simpson than with Glenn Close, he oughta have his eyes poked out.  Jessica’s immature self-absorbtion would drive him to self-mutilation within a month.  Glenn, on the other hand, is smart, attractive and knows how to kill wildlife; like rabbits, for instance.  It’s not a tough call in my book.

            Mattie Robinson was an older woman.  And she was very attractive.  Especially after she put her miniature gun away.  “Have you had lunch, dear?”  Her voice was all velvet again.

            “Why, no, and I am famished.  What’s your pleasure?”  Do I remind you of Dustin Hoffman?  I hoped I had only thought that last part.

            “Let’s just stick to lunch, dear.”

            She walked into the lot.  I followed.  We reached a Jaguar sedan.  It matched her.  She beeped the lock, and I opened the door for her.  She slid in behind the wheel.  I walked around and settled into the white leather seat.

            “Seat belt, dear.”

            “Of course.  Do you mind telling me what that was all about?”  I usually avoid prying, but I was getting into prying mode anyway, so what the hell.

            She maneuvered us smoothly onto the parkway.  She sure was a better driver than Valerie.  And she didn’t have a little “Calvin” pissing decal in the back window like the one on the Neon.

            “Darling.”  It almost sounded like she meant it.  “That son-of-a-bitch left me for a 23-year-old equestrian science major.”

            “That’s hard to believe,” I said.

            “Don’t try to flatter me.”

            “I’m not.  It is hard to believe there’s actually such a thing as equestrian science.”  I mean a horse is a horse of course, of course.  No doubt about it, I watched way too much TV as a child.

            “Watching you so charmingly destroy his manhood was the singularly most wonderful piece of street theater I’ve seen since the sixties.”

            “Glad I could be of service.”

            “Now you tell me,” — this was a command coming from her — “why you did it.  You certainly weren’t trying to impress little old me, were you?”

            “I’m always trying to impress women,”  I said.  Then, because it was a command, I told her the relevant parts of my story.  I told the whole truth, just like I’m telling you, with a few omissions, of course.

            “So, you want to get arrested?  Let me see what I can do.”

            She stopped the car.  The door was opened by a valet.  This was going to be a good lunch.  She took my arm on the way in.  It was a French joint.  The foreign name escapes me now.  My high school French was mediocre, but it translated into something like “The Dreamy Fish.”  I think that’s a piece by some French composer.  You know how the French are.

            I had some pate, some escargot, a nice trout, and a bottle of wine that would have paid my rent for two months.  I was in heaven.  This was where I belonged.  O.K., this is where I was headed before that bit of trouble when I was twenty-one.  Mattie was charming.  We talked about food.  We explored poetry and music.  Yes, we flirted a bit, and she was very good at it.  We laughed a while. 

            Restaurants like “The Dreamy Fish” are places to see and be seen.  There was a steady flow of well-dressed customers.  One, a nattily attired distinguished man, walked by our table.  Close enough to give me a whiff of his cologne.  He was soaked in the stuff – fresh cookies in the oven.  That night at St. Philomena’s.  Ding-ding.  “Kensington,” I said.

            He stopped and turned to face me.  “I beg your pardon?”  He gave me a quick, reflexive, dead fish handshake.  There was no stregth at all in his fat fingers, but he had a large purple stone ring that dug into my knuckle.  I winced.  “Oh, sorry,” he said.  Then holding up his hand to display the jewelry, he went on, “The pope gave it to me.  Quite an honor.”

            “Jewelry from the Pope, eh?  Does he have an account at Wal-Mart?”

            “Beg your pardon?”  Kensington didn’t get the joke.  He looked at his flashy jewel, and satisfied it was indeed classy, turned back to humble ol’ me.

Kensington did a quick scan.  He had that look of, “Who are you?  Do I know you?  Are you important?”  The evaluation didn’t take long.  Despite the fact that I had stood not six feet away from him while he plied my beloved with wine just the night before, despite the fact that we were both Assumption boys, he no more recognized my face than he could differentiate one grain of plebian sand from another.  I could almost hear the switch click to “No” to all of the above.  In the same instant that he dismissed me, Kensington locked onto Mattie.  “Mattie.  Mattie, my dear.  How are you?”  He beamed his best smile at her.  Kensington’s teeth were whiter than the tablecloths.

            “Hello, Joseph.”  Mattie’s voice dripped with fake pleasure.  I can always tell when a woman is faking.

            “I’ve meant to call.  Terrible thing that divorce.  We were so sad to hear of your troubles.”  Kensington was not as good as Mattie in the faking department.

            “Thank you for your concern.”  Mattie dropped the “good to see you” facade.

            “Have you met the Monsignor?”  Kensington was oblivious to her mood.  They don’t call him “Slow Joe” for nothing.  “Let me introduce you.”  A Marine in a Roman collar stepped out from behind Kensington.  He was vaguely familiar.  Salt and pepper hair, maybe I’d seen him in the newspaper.  His scent was different.  I couldn’t place it.  But, God’s truth, it made me salivate. 

            Kensington turned on his courtly manners.  “This is Monsignor Leo Shuldik, Chancellor of the Archdiocese.  Leo, all his friends call him Leo.”  Kensington revealed this as a testament to his own importance and the Monsignor’s humility.  “Leo, this is Mattie Robinson.  She’s quite rich.” 

            I almost laughed until I realized that Kensington’s little “rich” joke wasn’t a joke.

            “Pleased to meet you, Mattie.”  The Monsignor extended his hand, as it turned out, not to take hers in greeting.  He held his hand right in front of Mattie’s mouth.  Shuldik was wearing a big gold ring with a huge square cut ruby.  His hand and the ring, emblazoned with two ornate Maltese crosses, hovered a foot from Mattie’s lips.  There was an awkward pause.

            Mattie sucked a wayward piece of fish that had become lodged in her dainty teeth.  She never took her eyes off Shuldik’s thick athletic fingers and the ecclesiastic jewel.  Finally she spoke.  “You expect me to kiss that?  My dear Monsignor, Jewish girls don’t like men dangling strange things anywhere near their mouths.”

            I think I may have giggled a bit at that point.  Luckily, no one was paying attention to me.

            Shuldik pulled his hand back like he’d been burned.

            “Oh,” Kensington stammered.  “Ah…”  His hand shook — social Parkinson’s had kicked in as the awkward moment stretched out.  Kensington fidgeted and then suddenly grabbed Mattie’s wine glass.  He tossed it down like a shot of Old Crow, and almost broke the stem when he slammed it down, empty, in front of her.  “Well, so nice to see you, Mattie.”  The two men skittered off to the V.I.P. tables in the back of the restaurant.  I’ve never seen men move so fast without running.

            “Old friends?”  I laughed.  “Funny.”

            “Funny?”  Mattie had not cracked a smile.

            “Yeah.  Funny.  You don’t look Jewish.”  Mattie laughed.  I laughed.  Perhaps we were a bit too loud.  Everyone had turned to look at us, everyone except Kensington and Shuldik.  It took a minute, but we regained our composure.

            I refilled her glass.  “Maybe you’d like a clean one.”

            “Germs don’t scare me.  Kensington does that all the time.  It’s like a nervous tick.  When he feels the slightest bit of unease his brain shorts out and he grabs the nearest drink.  I’ve seen it happen far too many times to be surprised.”  Mattie checked the rim of the glass.  Turned it ninety degrees in her hand and took a sip.

            “I thought rich people had good manners.”

            “Darling, if that were true, what would be the use of being rich?”  Mattie smiled.

            “So Kensington is a friend of the family?”  I held out my pinky finger as I took another gulp of vino.

            “Kensington is an old chum of my ex-husband’s.  Birds of a feather.”  Mattie polished off her wine.  I poured her more.  “Ladies’ men and dolts, both of them are putzes on a cosmic scale.”

            “Bitterness becomes you, Mattie.”  I raised my glass to her.

            “You have no idea.”  She took a sip of wine.  “Kensington is more than an ass.  He’s a certifiable sociopath.”

            “That explains his career choice as a prosecutor.”  I have my own resentments.

            “He got that job because of his family.  Old money and political power can turn out some twisted spawn.”

            “And free rings from the Pope.”

            “Yes, Kensington is a Defender of the Faith or some such title.  Basically, that means he gives the Church tons of cash and, of couse, political support.”

            “Hence his buddy the auxilliary bishop, Monsignor Shuldik.”

            “Precisely.  Real pillars of the community.  Assholes.”  It sounded sophisticated when Mattie said the word.  “Assholes.”

            “There’s more to your resentment than Kensington hanging out with your husband me thinks.  What is it, Mattie?”  I was on my sixth glass of wine, and I can get nosy.

            “Yeah, they trolled for unfortunate girls together.  At least that’s what I think they did.  I became used to that.  A woman makes bad bargains sometimes.  Besides, I never was able to prove anything.”  Mattie held out her wine glass.  I refilled it. 

            “Bad private detective?”

            “Good help is so hard to find.”  Mattie laughed and gave me a look that… well, nevermind.  Did I mention how attractive she was?  Anyway, Mattie dropped the come-hither look preety quickly.  “I guess I decided to accept any daliances as part of the deal.  What really pissed me off was when I found out that my husband was dipping into the clinic’s drug supply.  We barely managed to keep it out of court.  I think dear Doctor Robinson was selling a few of the more commonly abused liitle relaxers.”

            “Greedy man.”

            “Stupid ass.  Anyway, I was not about to end up with a convict for a husband.”

            “There goes my chance, huh?”

            “Maybe.”  That look again – and again, it was gone.  Women are so fickle.  “The last straw was when one night, hubby dear and Kensington showed up at our door with an unconscious girl.  Some model Kensington had used for one of his excreble paintings.  At least that was the story they gave me.”

            “Kensington is an artist?”

            “Bullshit only, darling.  But he does have a studio.  And he does dab paint on canvas.  Kensington uses it as a pick-up line.  Come over and I’ll paint you — nude, of course.”

            “And women fall for this?”

            “Never.  Usually he finds a professional model.”

            “A hooker.”  I was catching on.

            “Precisely.”  Mattie went on.  From her voice and her face, it was clear that this was not a pleasant memory.  “He brought this poor girl to our house.  My husband is a doctor, after all.  He has his medical bag here.  She was in terrible condition.  I think Kensington had hit her.  God knows why.  He’d given her drugs.  I know that.  My dear husband told me that later.  She was nearly dead.  But those two pillars of the community revived her.  I’m sure she was sent off with some extra money.  I heard that Kensington set her up with some kind of regular job, too.  The girl seemed lost.  I should have done something but I…  Kensington, my husband…  Sickening.”  Mattie went back to her wine.

            “Awful.”  I wasn’t surprised.  People’s sins never surprise me.  I had an inspiration.  “Maybe the press should hear about this.”

            Mattie laughed.  “The press?  You dear naïve boy.  Kennsington’s wife runs the press.  She’s the publisher of the Tirawa Star-Register.”

            “I see.  So his wife, the publisher, knows.”

            “She knows he’s an ass.  Listen, their’s is a political marriage.  Two old wealthy families in alliance.”

            “The Medici and the Borgias?”

            “Funny.  Very funny.  I doubt if Mrs. Kensington knows the depths of his vices.  I doubt she cares.”  Mattie went on.  “Anyway, the worst of it was, a month or two later when we were at a party at Kensington’s house, he pulled me upstairs to show me something,  Right on the wall in his bedroom, there it was.”

            “Let me guess.”

            Mattie didn’t let me guess.  “A painting of a nude girl.  The same girl he’d nearly killed.”


            “Disgusting.”  She finished off another glass.  The memory had put a strain on her.  “A painting of a naked girl holding a book.  And Kensington thought it was art.  He was so proud of himself.  God, put a book in her hand, and softcore gets culture.”

            “What was the book?”  I don’t know why I asked the question.  But I did.

            “Canterbury Tales.  Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.”  Mattie held out her empty glass.

            I spilled some wine as I poured.  My hands were unsteady.  “Terri,”  I said.


            “Nothing.  Nothing.”  I might have taken a swig straight from the bottle right then.  I can’t be sure.

            “I really must go now, Mr. Hutchence.”  Mattie looked all of fifty.  That’s what happens when you think back too much.

            “Of course.  Thank you, Mattie.”

            For a second she looked younger again.  “My pleasure.”  She paid the check, made a call on the smallest cell phone I’ve ever seen, stood, kissed me lightly on the cheek, and left.  Her perfume, as they say, lingered.  I figured six months rent for a bottle of that.

            I sat alone at the table for five minutes.  My mind was trying to coil around Kensington and his painting of Terri.  I was trying to squeeze the thoughts so they’d be quiet.  Then the cops came and arrested me.  Just that simple.

            It was all very courteous and high class — like the joint.  Mattie had asked the owner of the joint to press charges against me for skipping out on the tab.  Of course I hadn’t.  More important, Mattie had him throw in a complaint about a threat of some kind.  Do that in a ritzy neighborhood still on-edge because of September 11 and facing the terrifying prospect that some Massachusetts liberal would stifle the next round of tax cuts, you become an A-list bust.  Finally, one of my great ideas had worked out, sort of.  My original plan would have put me in the old part of the Dick with the riff raff, the minor criminals.  Mikey was in the high rent district.  Hey, murderers have a lot of status in municipal lockups.  I hadn’t considered that.  But Mattie did.  The best women always have criminal minds. 

            I was heading for the new wing.  I’d gotten a preview on the tube a month or so before. Channel Six’s own Liz Nice had been covering the “Grand Opening” of the new wing on the city jail, located down the hill near the airport.  It was a gala event.  Local swells paid $250 each to be “booked.”  It included mug shots and a Jim Morrison sound-alike band, “The Back Doors.” The “inmates” got drunk on box wine, then were locked in a shiny new cell until the next morning.  I’m sure they were all hot to have a little prison sex.  That’s really funny.  Especially if you’ve ever had any of the real stuff yourself, but I don’t want to talk about that.  After the jail staff hosed out the new facility the next morning, the new routine promised to be a little less festive. 

            My “great” plan would have ended up, like I said earlier, ”idiotic.”  Mattie had been at the fund raiser, the Grand Opening blowout.  She knew.  They were putting the important social deviates, like murderers, on the new side of the Dick.  Mikey was in the new wing, and I wasn’t getting in there for busting a few Hummer windows or skipping out on a restaurant check. You needed reservations.  My elegant sweetheart got ‘em for me. 

            Mattie made sure that the proprietor threw in that little “threat” charge.  The power structure took it very seriously when low-lifes like me presume to even think of harming one of the “quality”people.  It was the next best thing to murder.  Besides, Mattie had told me that her friend would drop the charges first thing in the morning.  It was almost perfect.  I’d get my one night in jail.  Thanks to my new rich lady friend, I’d spend it with Mikey.  Even better, on the ride down, the Crown Vic was brand new.  I love the smell of a new cop car.

            The jail was brand new, too.  Nonetheless, it already smelled like a jail.  My new friend had pull.  After they booked me, I was escorted to my pod.  Pod?  What will they think of next?  This was a new concept to me. I’d never been in a “pod” before.  All I knew or cared about was that it was Pod #12.  Amazing what the right connections could do.  I thought it could take me a couple of days, even weeks, to finagle this.

            A big room with a balcony of cells wrapping around on three sides, and the front of the pod was all plexiglass, floor to ceiling.  The cells didn’t have the traditional bars.  They were doors like you’d see in a school, where they really need security.  They were steel, with thick windows.  There were twenty cells to a pod.

            The main floor was all bolted down metal tables and benches.  A little semi-circle of chairs, also bolted down, faced a TV.  “Sponge Bob Square Pants” was on.

            Mikey was in the front row.



All I needed was to get arrested.        

            The better I feel about one of my ideas, the more likely it is to be wrong.  I know that.  I’ve had good ideas before, and they work out about half the time.  However, whenever I’ve had a great idea, it’s a shitty day in a shit storm at the shit factory on shit street.  On the great pie chart of plans, if you start with “Idiotic”: move ninety degrees to “Poor,” ninety more to “Mediocre,” then ninety again to “Good” and a final ninety to “Great.” It leads you to a disturbing conclusion.  Now, if you were awake during geometry, and not living in Spicola’s dream world at Ridgemont High, you would know that adds up to:  A perfect 360.  “Idiotic” equals “Great.”

            It’s been true throughout history.  Idiocy and Greatness are often indistinguishable.  Pharaoh has a great idea.  “We’ll pile up all these stones and bury me in them.  All my treasure will be safe.”  Of, course, down at the Thebes grave robbers union hall, all the guys are giggling into their scarab beetle hash.  “What an idiot.  We’ll have it cleaned out by the Monday after the funeral.”  Then the shop steward chimes in, “Wait, make that Tuesday, fellas, Monday is President’s Day.”  Now tourists think the pyramids are great, and they are, I guess, but not because they did what they were supposed to do.  On that basis they are colossal, idiotic failures.  And their location sucks.  It gets way too hot there.

            Mister Christopher Columbus had a great idea.  However, if you’re a Lakota Sioux he’s a fucking idiot!  Orville and Wilbur had a great idea.  That’s why I got strip searched by a minimum wage Gestapo agent after they found a nutcracker in my carry on.  Plus, is it ever a great idea to fly to Lubbock, Texas?  No, of course not.  It’s idiotic.

            I could go on talking about great ideas and idiotic results, but just let me mention one more.  Just pronounce two simple syllables and my case is made.  Great ideas are the same as idiotic ideas.  One word:  Iraq.  Let’s move on, shall we?

            I was absolutely convinced in every fiber of my being that this was my best, most clever plan ever.  I needed to talk to Mikey.  Maybe he could explain why I found his jewelry on the path up to the body.  Maybe I would believe him.  Maybe I would make People Magazine’s “Hundred Sexiest Men When the Lighting is Just Right” List.

            Mikey was in jail.  Only people in jail could talk to him.  Now it seems so simple to some people; just go to the jail on visiting day.  That’s a fine setup.  Fill a condom with a file, a carton of cigarettes, a bong, and the paperback edition of “Copping a Plea for Dummies.”   Put on my best Sunday frock.  Probably wear the garter belt and the Wonder bra so the poor dear can have a small bit of comfort.  Walk up to little Mikey, give him a brotherly tonsil cleaning hello sailor kiss, and slip him the condom that I have tucked under my tongue.  And then we could have our nice little chat about Terri.  So all I’d have to do is traipse on down to the prison and sign in.  There’s the problem.

            I’ve made no secret of it.  I’m a convicted felon.  State law, city ordinance, Vaporville tribal custom, and a couple of guards at the jail who I may have humiliated inadvertently on one or several of my stays, prevent me from being a legal, sanctioned, signed-in, official, thanks-for-dropping-by visitor.  If I were to walk into the security office and ask for my jail hall-pass and say, “Please tell Mikey I’m here to see him,” there’d be more bells going off than in Rome on Easter morning.  Jail officials would laugh so hard that one or two might make a clumsy mistake during my complimentary anal probe before they tossed me out into the parking lot.  Personally, I like my strip searches to be calm and professional.  So visiting Mikey was out.

            Val could visit Mikey.  But she didn’t know what I knew.  She couldn’t “talk” to Mikey the way I was going to “talk” to Mikey.  Besides, visiting day wasn’t until Thursday.  I was too ugly to pass myself off as Val and too angry to wait.

            I couldn’t “go” to jail.  I needed to be “in” jail.  That seemed so obvious.  I’ve been in jail before.  It’s no big deal.  I was in prison once.  That was a big deal.  But we’re just talking jail here.  They got cable in at the county jail.  The HBO got canceled, though, because the guards were watching “OZ” too much, and too many inmates started acting like Tony Soprano. 

            Tirawa’s local law and order establishment is officially named, “The Richard M. Nixon Correctional and Community Center.”  I kid you not.  They named it after a guy who subverted the constitution, hired burglars, lied into the camera about his clandestine rendezvous with Laos, wagged his finger at us, “I did not have sexual relations with that country,” and never pulled a day of time.  It would have made more sense to name it after one of the burglars… like Bernard Barker, one of the Watergate burglars and all-around schmoe.  There was a real sad sack.  He was stupid, loyal, and paunchy, just like ninety percent of the inmates and guards.  It would have been a more appropriate name. Even when they put the new wing on the jail this year they ignored Bernard and named the addition after a local meat packing plant CEO who helped pass the food-stamp tax that financed it.  That particular corporate pillar of the community is in a federal prison now.

            The plan was elegant in its simplicity.  Commit a misdemeanor, my specialty, serious enough to require a trip to the lock-up.  It’s a little trickier than you think.  Nowadays, the officer is as likely to write you a ticket as slap the cuffs on you.  It saves them paperwork.  But I knew what to do.  You’re not dealing with an amateur here.

            First, I had to get out of Vaporville.  It’s the tough side of town, Tirawa’s dark underbelly.  Vaporville got its name back during Prohibition when the smell of a thousand bathtubs making gin filled the neighborhood.  If anything, the appelation is even more appropriate now, as the distinctive tang of ether emanating from the area’s meth labs swirls with every passing semi hauling away toxic waste. 

            Anything you do wrong in this neighborhood is automatically considered a felony.  True.  Expired plates, yelling at a spouse, illegal dumping, parking in a tow away zone, public anything, gang attire — that means any kind of baseball cap not worn in the manner that Cal Ripken wore his —  littering, firebombing the Popeye’s Chicken, whatever little thing you do down here gets you a serious charge.  The rationale is, “We got you now.  And we know you’ve gotten away with a lot of stuff in the past.  So let’s punish you because we know you deserve it.”

            No, I didn’t want to get busted in Vaporville.  I wanted to do something that would get me in for one night.  I’d have my tete-a-tete with brother Mikey.  Then Val would bond me out.  God, I hoped she would bond me out.  Like I said, it was a great idea.

             It was four blocks to my place from Valerie’s.  I don’t call it home.  It was a two room “efficiency,” which means there was a bathroom and a kitchen/sleeping area.  I hit the shower, using the last of the Irish Spring.  It was just a sliver on the drain, but it worked.  I put on some nice khaki pants and a Botany Bay Shirt.  It was so rare to find clothes my size in a Porsche, but hey, sometimes I luck out.  I tossed on a nice Orvis canvas jacket.  I always kept my costumes in good shape.  I headed out.  I was never at the apartment very long.  It depressed me.

            I hoofed it over to Ahmed’s Messenger Service on Tenth.  Right, I don’t drive.  I mean, I can drive, but I lost my license some time back.  Guess why.  It’s the one law I try to keep.  I don’t know why.  Maybe respecting that one legal restriction makes me feel like I have a little integrity left.

            Ahmed’s was a concrete block building with a lovely concrete yard on the corner of Tenth and Custer, surrounded by a Stalinesque ten-foot-high cyclone fence topped with barbed wire.  The landscaping effect was complimented by a burnt out step van with a giant smiling chicken painted on the side of the charred box.  The chicken’s grin was enhanced by pearly white teeth.

            When I walked through the gate, which was always wedged, at most, halfway open, Ahmed himself greeted me.  “S’lttle early for pond scum to be risin’ to the surface of the pond, ain’t it?”

            “Ahmed, salaam allie oxen free.”  My Arabic was rusty.

            He was a little husky.  O.K., Ahmed was fat.  He weighed in around three hundred pounds and maybe made six foot.  His shaved scalp was as pale as a Warsaw snowdrift.  His full name was Ahmed X. Yablonski.  He was originally from Poland, where he rebelled against his Communist puppet masters by reading Malcolm and watching smuggled Blacksploitation flicks.  He decided he was black and emigrated to our shores when Walesa and the gang took over.  In America, he said, “You can be whatever you want to be.”  So Ahmed changed some of his name and became black.

            After opening the messenger service, he did lots of things for lots of people.  Suffice it to say, after a little rocky start, his sincerity carried the day.  He did a dead-on Richard Roundtree.  Most important, he acted like those heroes; Shaft, Super Fly, Freddy “the Hammer.”  His word was his bond.  When it was time to stand up, he stood up.  He turned the movie cliches into a creed.  Everyone around just accepted it after awhile.  Ahmed was black.

            “So, Tools, how ya’ doin’ this fine moanin’?”  He called me “Tools” because, well, remember the old locks?  My fingers were the tools.

            “Life is good, Ahmed.  Life is good.”

            “Not what I heard.  Yo skinny ass brotha’ killed the Head.  Thas what I heard.”

            “You think he did it?”

            “I don’ think nothing, Tools.  You know dat.”

            “Yeah, I know.”

            “Listen, I do know dat they was here Sunday evenin’.  They went to da back to watch a video.  When I saw what kinda’ shit it was, I axed ‘em to get the fuck out.  Yo brotha’ was yelling at her all the way to da car.  They both sickern’ I eva’ thought.  Shit.”

            “Fuck.  Don’t tell me — porn?”

            “Bet your pale ass.  Kiddie porn, Tools, kiddie.. fuckin’… hand job… porn.”

            “Yeah, I heard.”

“Shit Tools.  You knew ‘bout dat shit?”

“Found out last night.  Listen, Ahmed, I can’t explain it to you now.  Trust me.  I’m going to kill the son-of-a-bitch.”

“I’ll kill him for ya.  No charge.”

“No, this one’s mine, Ahmed.”  It was nice of him but I had to refuse.  Just talking about it made my head hurt again.  Anger isn’t the word.  Child pornography.  Sick shit.  The French Vanilla coffee from earlier was climbing up my gullet.

            I know I’m a criminal.  I steal stuff.  But I never loot pension funds or scam houses from the elderly with rip-off siding loans.  I don’t bankrupt companies and throw thousands on the street so I can retire to a gated estate in Boca Raton.  I don’t sell drugs.  I don’t overcharge for antibiotics or heart medication.  I don’t steal elections.  I don’t eat at restaurants with the word “Afghani” anywhere on the menu.  I don’t start wars over oil.  I don’t kill people.  I have my moral code.  I consider myself honest.  And anyone, I mean anyone, who messes up kids deserves to die.  Whether they hit them, starve them, or worst of all sexually molest them in any way, they should be disemboweled and roasted alive in the public square.

            “Relax, Tools.  Yo’ brotha was as ‘prized as I was.  He didn’t want nuthin’ to do wid it.  Thas what he was yellin’ at her.”

            “That’s crazy.  Terri wasn’t into that.  It doesn’t make any sense.”

            “Jus’ tellin’ you what went down.  Lotta stuff in this ol’ worl’ don’t make no sense.”  Ahmed was a friend.  If he said it happened, it happened.

            “Ahmed, I need a ride.”

            “You gonna’ go out and get me sumpin’?”

            “Not today, bro.”  Ahmed occasionally purchases items from me.  Items of a mutually profitable nature.  His nickname isn’t “Cyclone” for nothing.

            “Where you wanna go?”

            “Up to Northland.”

            He rubbed his face, thinking.  This was asking a very big favor.

            “Let me get my shades.  So many white folk up there, da glare botha’s me.”  He laughed.

            A couple of minutes later, we were in Ahmed’s black Lincoln Navigator.  Leather seats, windows tinted beyond regulation, with enough power in the sound system to boil water on the woofers, it was a fine ride.  Ahmed cranked up Busta’ Rhymes “Genesis” CD.  It kicked in on “Pass the Courvoisier” and by the time “Break Ya Neck” hit, we were north bound on I-460. 

            The whole trip north, Busta is venting his Afro-rath that he recorded in Woodland Hills, California — originally the home of the gentle and now extinct Chumash Indians.  Ironic.  By “Make it Hurt”  we were almost there.

            The I-460 six lane monstrosity had been built to wall off Vaporville from downtown.  Sure, they’ll tell you it was to give easier access to the airport and feed traffic into the city center in order to stimulate economic growth.  But you and I know the real economic growth was in the hip pockets of the Tirawa gentry that bought up the big swath of the old neighborhood just before the bulldozers moved in.  That’s the American way. 

            Regardless, it took us north to the appropriately named suburb, Northland.  Also affectionately referred to as “Rich Land,” it was big houses, country clubs, toney restaurants, gallerias, and office parks full of plastic surgeons.  I directed Ahmed, who, by the way, is Baptist, to the Rio Caliente Professional Center.  Don’t even ask.  Yes, you’re right, there is no “Rio,” and certainly, in November, no “Caliente” here in the Midwest.  Hell, until the eighties there hadn’t been a Hispanic within two hundred miles since Coronado scouted out potential Stuckey’s locations in the sixteenth century.

            Ahmed had turned down Busta’ just as “You Ain’t F***in’ Wit Me” got going.  Nobody in this SUV wanted to attract any undue attention here on enemy ground.  Ahmed’s face had morphed into “Polish Immigrant.”  We were both sitting up straight.  We even had our seat belts on…when in Rome. 

            Even his voice was different. “Here you go, chum.  Have a nice day. Call me later.”  Ahmed was smiling like an insurance agent.

            “Thank you.  Drive carefully.” 

            I closed the door and watched the Navigator pull away smoothly through the classy tree-lined parking lot and turn, blinker flashing, back onto the boulevard and away.  I looked at the new buildings built from old brick, some probably salvaged from working class row houses in the bulldozer’s path.  Ironic, but very nice indeed.  I could smell money.  It was time to get arrested.

            Whenever I did “a crime,” I tried to pick out, and I hate the word but for now, a “victim” who deserved it, or at least one who could afford it.  I didn’t give to the poor but I did rob from the rich.  You have to remember, too, that “rich” is a relative term.  Like society, I believe there are people who need to be punished, at least a little.  My punishments were never severe.  For instance, I never took personal stuff.  I’d take the money but not the purse, the sterling frame but not the family portrait, the VCR but not the wedding video, etc., etc.  Men who went to strip bars were fair game.  Young women spending daddy’s money at trendy dance clubs were fair game.  Doctors who had offices in Rio Caliente were fair game.

            It was easy to find a doctor’s car.  It was parked right next to the entrance in a spot marked “Reserved for Dr. Robinson.”  I wondered what Mrs. Robinson was up to at home, koo koo ka choo.

            I’m not a sexist.  My feminist gal pal has cured that.  I knew it was a male Dr. Robinson because the car was a Hummer.  It’s the most ridiculous penile extension ever built by Detroit, or wherever the hell they built it.  A Hummer is the civilian version of the Army combat vehicle that helped lead our troops to glorious victory over those Iraqi janitors, garbage men, waiters, and shoe salesman in Kuwait.  The troops loved it.

            Then came Georgie’s war, and after a few hundred roadside bombs, the troops didn’t like those HumVees so much.  A friend who was in Baghdad says some of the G.I.’s started referring to the thin-skinned vehicles as “Pintos with Bullseyes.”  

            Hummers were big, too heavy for most rural bridges in the U.S., clumsy, sucked gas like a four wheeled sump pump, and ugly.  But they had cachet.  Hummers were yuppie hip.  They had status. The sticker was upstairs from fifty thousand dollars.  No Junior Leaguer was driving this bad boy, it had to be a guy who had too much money and too much money.

            There were nice little benches on the walkway right in front of the Doctor’s masculine conveyance.  Since it was a nice sunny day and around forty degrees, it wasn’t surprising to see a well-dressed blond, about fifty, not unattractive, sitting not twenty feet from the car.  It was perfect.  A witness. 

            The events to come crystallized in my mind.  Visualization is critical to success.  I would pick up a rock of some sort.  My aim would be true.  The windshield would fragment.  The police would arrive.  The nice lady would finger me.  I would be politely handcuffed and removed from the scene on my way to interview my morally compromised brother in jail.  All the pieces were in place. 

            I walked over to some yucca plants near her.

            “Good morning.  Nice day.”

            She hesitated a moment, then smiled a great artificially whitened smile. “Yes, it is.  Good morning.”

            There was a lull in the conversation.  Those can be so awkward, can’t they?  But this was only for a moment, while I picked up a brick edger and walked over to the good doctor’s vehicle.  I admired it momentarily, and then wound up and delivered.  The brick hit right over the steering wheel and shattered the windshield.  I walked back to the yucca and got another brick.

            I smiled at my new blond friend.  “A bit unusual for this time of year, don’t you think?”

            Her mouth was open, then she smiled back, “Yes, an unusually nice day.”

            The second brick caught the driver’s side window.  I had my good stuff today.  I always feel safe in Northland because the police are numerous and professional.  It couldn’t have been thirty seconds before a patrol car pulled into the lot and headed my way.  I stepped out to wave him down.  It’s always a good idea to show empty hands when approaching a peace officer, even if you’re white.

            The Black and White pulled up even with me.  The window rolled down.

            “May I help you, sir?”  Great, he hadn’t been called.  He had just blundered by.  That complicated things a little.

            “Yes, Officer, I’d like to report a vandalism incident.”

            “What happened?”  Unbelievable, I get the cop who wouldn’t notice a weasel in his pants. 

            Finally, the Hummer’s alarm went off.  Those things are useless.  Believe me, they never stop thieves like me.  All auto alarms do is go off when the wind is a little gusty, wake up neighbors who end up hating you, or scare the hell out of your sweethearts when you lend them the car without training.  The only thing they’re good for is to confirm earthquakes.  But if you want to waste a couple hundred bucks, go for it.

            Between the alarm and the squad car, a crowd had begun to gather.  Officer Oblivious got out, adjusted his baton, and took command.

            “What’s going on?” 

            “The windows on that fine car have been viciously smashed.”  I gestured in the Hummer’s direction.  I wasn’t taking any chances that he’d miss it.  The smashed windows and the bricks, one on the ground, one on the dented football field-sized hood, were clearly visible.  Maybe I should have brought along labels.

            “Anybody see anything?!”  He was yelling over the wailing alarm.

            A man emerged from the well-dressed mob.  Extended his arm and clicked.  The alarm stopped.  He was wearing a white lab coat.  Ah, good morning, Dr. Robinson.

            “What the hell!”  He seemed upset.  His hand slid across the hood over the indentation.  I thought he was going to cry.  He picked up the brick, looked at it, then dropped it like Ethics class in Med School.

            “This your car, sir?”  Officer Oblivious had forgotten me completely.

            “Yes, yes it is.  Who did this?”  He eyed the lady on the bench who still sat there smiling.  His eyes locked on hers, she returned the stare, then he broke it off like a dog in trouble.  He stared at his shoes.  The rage started in his feet and boiled up, turning his face Oklahoma clay red.  “Officer, arrest that woman!”

            This was going the wrong way.  I needed to restore order. 

            “I did it, officer.  I confess.”  Everyone turned to look at me. 

            “You did, huh?  Well then, sir, I am going to have to place you…”

            “He didn’t do it, officer.  I saw the whole thing.”  The dame on the bench butted in.

            “What did you see, ma’am?”

            “A car load of kids drove by.  It was a red car.  They threw the bricks.”   She was standing, approaching now.  She was very high class.  Like I said, fifty maybe, slim, tailored suede slacks, silk blouse, a well fit soft leather jacket.  Nice looking, and more than that, she was very rich.

            “Then why would he admit…?…”  The cop’s wheels couldn’t turn this fast.  Pretty soon his ears would smoke.

            Doctor Robinson could only sputter something like, “Buuuh… Jusssst… Sheee…!”

            The Missus gave him the eye.  Then, with great dignity she proclaimed my nobility.  “Because, as a friend, he was protecting me from any baseless accusations my ex-husband was about to make.”  Well hello, Mrs. Robinson!  This was too sweet. 

            The cop saw his way out.  He took it.  “Sir, it’s your car.  Did you see her do it?”

            “No, but…”

            “Did you see him do it?”  He pointed at me with his baton.

            “No.”  Doc was really pissed now.  He just looked at his penis, I mean his car, and I swear you could see him shrink.  Cold water always has that effect on men.  The duchess had just thrown a bucketful on him. 

            “Let’s fill out the report, sir.”  He walked over to the victim, touched his elbow, and escorted him to the cop car.  The Doctor got in the passenger side, the cop got in the driver’s side, and they got to work on the mandatory official report.  Crowds don’t like paperwork.  They were quickly getting gone.  The last of them, a couple of cute nurses who probably worked for the Doc, were smiling, even laughing a little as they turned to go back to work.  They seemed very happy about the whole thing.  My time and effort hadn’t been completely wasted.

            I looked at my new friend.

            “Nothing more to see here, ma’am.  Let’s move along,”  I said.  Dr. Robinson and the cop were busy with the paperwork in the squad car.  No need to hang around.  Not surprising, my original plan wasn’t going to work.  I followed my anonymous co-conspirator across the parking lot.  “Giving false information to an officer of the law in the performance of his official duties is against the law, ma’am.”

            “You call me ‘ma’am’ one more time and I’ll take the little derringer out of my little purse here and shoot you in the kneecap.”  She put her hand in her stylish little bag.

            It was the cutest gun I’d ever seen.


            When women get drunk they turn into men.

            I like that — if I like them.  I like Val.  Not that I’m the type of man who would take advantage of a woman who had perhaps had a bit past her limit.  But I should make it clear that if they want to take advantage of me, well, I am always considerate.

            It wasn’t just the tears, or the slurred speech that confirmed Val’s inebriated state.  It was the way she invited me into her place – by the belt buckle.  She almost tossed me into the kitchen and stood there breathing through her mouth – not unattractively – hanging onto the counter for balance.

            I had seen her this way before – not often – but I’d seen this behavior.  I knew what was up.  The crème brullee had gotten to the poor girl.  I could tell.  All that faux seductive behavior at the restaurant had turned on her brain stem.  I knew what to do.  Give her room and let her lead the way.

I hung up my coat and sat down at the little dinette – a cute little 1950’s steel table with tubular legs and a turquoise enamel top.  All I could do was sit there in the reflected blue-green glow.

            She reached into the cupboard and pulled out two Flintstone juice glasses.  You can tell a woman’s classy if her glassware matches.  She pulled a bottle of wine out of the fridge. 

            I could have said, “Val, don’t you think you’ve had enough?”  But I was trying to be a sensitive guy.

It was a nice, slightly sweet California Beaujolais.  I know my wine.  There was a little hiss as she poured it out.  She handed me Wilma.  Putting her to my lips, my tongue touched the white pearls circling her neck, and I slowly but steadily sucked down her contents.  Val, who was sipping on Barney, refilled my date.  We weren’t talking.  She didn’t like to talk when she was enabling.

            The second time, I lingered with Wilma.  My fingers were on her impossibly thin waist.  I sipped.  Valerie pulled me and my chair back from the table.  She touched my neck gently, slowly squeezed my shoulders.  She refilled my glass.  Reaching over me with the bottle, her breast brushed my ear.   She meant to do it.  She did it again, just barely.  I love these subtle signals.

            She moved around in front of me, turning out the kitchen light on the way.  Streetlight through the partially opened plastic blinds and the night light from the hall towards the bedroom gave her auburn hair a glow. 

            Her fair skin had its own internal light.  She sat on the table, reached out, and pulled me closer.  I just went along, letting her bend her head down to kiss the top of my head.  The slight touch of a tongue to my forehead was a drug.

            As she straightened, I took a slow mouthful of wine, put down the glass, and began to touch her, I think. Was I touching her? So very barely touching her.  I didn’t want to blink.  I didn’t want to drool, either, so I swallowed the wine.

             I wanted to see her.  Clothes don’t come off easily in real life like they do in bad novels or good movies.  I won’t tell you I am any good at this kind of sleight of hand, but that dress… the fabled dress… it didn’t come undone… it simply dissolved. Like some dream you have… was I dreaming?                

Valerie’s breasts are memorable.  But every time I see them, it’s like the first time.  They are so right.  If she’d let me, I’d just stare at them for hours.  That’s hardly surprising.  Hugh Hefner made a fortune exploiting that particular characteristic of male hard wiring. 

            I put a bit more wine in my mouth and used my lips to explore various sensitive areas on said breasts — two particular pink features — each in its turn, slowly, as I kind of swished the wine around.  It may have sounded — to the unsophisticated — like a pre-gargle Listerine swish, but Val responded, nonetheless.

            She made one of those low sounds.  Just at the lower range of human hearing, but my senses were sharp.  I heard her and replied in kind.  Biology was taking over.  It was that point when all the civilized parts of the brain relax and let the monkey mind take over.  My inner chimp was on the verge.  Jesus, I still had my pants on.  They were tan pants — it would show.

            There was no hurry at all.  For her, anyway.  Personally, I was beginning to feel some urgency.  Sitting on that little dinette chair reminded me.  I needed to buy some of those loose- fitting trousers if we were going to do this again.

            She kissed the top of my head while I worried her nipples with just the slightest edge of my teeth.  Don’t get the wrong impression.  I am not God’s gift to women.  I had been well trained by Valerie over the years.  Early on, during my tryouts, she told me if I was hitting or missing.  With enough rewards and just a few punishments, even a chicken can learn to play the piano.  We were way past “Chopsticks.”

            Her hands were on my head now, petting my hair – twisting it in her fingers.  I let my hands wander on their own.  I was breathing pretty hard and thinking about baseball trivia so that I could stay in this game.  Joe Morgan played three games at third for the Reds in ‘82.

            Not just any baseball factoid helps alleviate my performance anxiety.  I cannot think about the New York Yankees.  The Bronx Bombers are entirely too sexual — unsurprising for a team that featured a guy named “Babe” as one of its all-time stars.  Plus the Pinstripers have a habit of clinching the pennant early, and that was precisely what I was trying to avoid.

            Valerie stood up.  I sat back, and my eyes took her in.  She had an intense look on her face, and her body, with the shadows and curves melding, seemed to grow out of the night.  She gave me a look that almost frightened me. Like if she’d had a knife and fork in her hands I might have been the entree – for real. She sat back down on the table, and I let my fingernails skitter across her skin. She leaned back.  Her right foot explored my…  Well let’s just say the game got serious. Who won the ‘85 World Series?  Propped up on her elbows, she looked down at me. It was a real interesting angle. I love a scenic view.

            My mouth found her thigh just above the knee, and now my eyes were locked with hers.  The inside of her thigh was so smooth.  She opened them, legs and eyes slightly wider.  From thigh to thigh I moved my tongue lightly, while my hands reached up to her breasts.  My fingertips made circles touching everything except…  She liked that.  Then she touched a few things.  I liked that.  An excited woman caressing herself makes me, out of necessity; compute batting averages in my head.  Le Grand Orange hit .299 with the Tigers in ‘76.  As she kept running her fingers around, I was getting close to reciting earned run averages out loud. Wilbur Woods 1.87 in ‘68.  There were more sounds now.  They were quiet… but I heard them.

            There’s some skill involved, but mostly it’s luck and persistence.  This could have been five minutes; it could have been an hour.  My mouth was on her.

             She grabbed my head, and suddenly the sounds were loud.  Her thighs closed around me. She stiffened, shuddered, and pressed against me.  For a second I couldn’t breathe; then she collapsed back on the dinette table.

            My face felt cool as the slight draft in the room touched it.  Valerie was pulling in air in big gulps that gradually slowed.  One of her fingers was circling my left ear.  Her other arm was thrown back under her head.  She was looking at me.

            “My God…my God…my God,” she said.

            I was looking at her, too.  I had never seen anything more beautiful than all of her naked on that table that night, that moment.  With the exception of Barry Bonds swinging a bat.  Wait, I could forget about that now.

            “Let’s get in bed.”  What did she say?  Was that Valerie, my Valerie?  I was so happy.  I didn’t get to sleep with Valerie very often.  Have sex?  Yes.  Sleep together?  This might be getting serious again.

            She led me by the hand, and we got into her bed.  The sheets were cool and clean.  So were her hands; I love her hands.  She put those lovely thighs to either side of me and slowly slid down on me.  I may have shouted out, “Tinker to Evers to Chance!”  I do know that the neighbors pounded on the ceiling.  I slept so well that night.

            I hope that wasn’t a problem.  I hope you understand why I told you about that.  It wasn’t really necessary for the advancement of the plot. It sure wasn’t artistic.  I’m no D.H. Lawrence or Jackie Collins.  But I wanted you to understand Val and me.  See, you needed to understand why Val, an intelligent, feminist lawyer, former rich girl, would hang out with me, a seemingly hopeless drunk.  Now you know.  No, not because I’m a great lover, but because of my little kink.

            Everybody’s got their kink, the thing that turns them on.  You’ve got yours.  I’ve got mine.  The trick is finding that person whose kink fits yours.

            My kink?  It’s simple.  I don’t want to dominate, don’t like shoes, keep your latex, and don’t hit me.  What gets me is a woman’s pleasure.  Oh, I like my pleasure, too.  But unless the woman I am with is feeling it and showing it, I’d rather watch “Wheel of Fortune” and eat Froot Loops.  Valerie’s kink?

            She loves it when somebody cares about her pleasure, man or woman, as it turns out, but that’s another story.  And maybe she likes me because I’m the exact opposite type from her super-rich, controlling, status-hungry father.  Then again, her dad and I are both thieves of a sort.  So maybe the old, “you fall in love with your dad” saw is right.  Whatever, for the last few years, we’re an occasional perfect fit.  So now you know.  Let’s not bring the lovemaking deal in the kitchen up again.  O.K.?

            When I woke up, I wasn’t hung over, but I was miserable.  I was facing the window.  It looked like a beautiful day in the metro.  Valerie was spooned up against my back.  That warm feeling is priceless, but I turned cold.  Her arm draped over me, she was lazily twirling the chain of my St. Christopher medal around and around her finger.

            Mikey and I had both gotten our medals when we were altar boys.  The thing is, of course, Saint Christopher isn’t even a Saint anymore.  Some bleary-eyed clerics had emerged from the Vatican cellars some time back.  They had been going through parchments, prophecies, spread sheets, and the World Book Encyclopedia for two hundred years and discovered that Chris was a myth.  Turns out he didn’t carry the stranger, who turned out to be the Christ child, across the swollen river.  Turns out all the holy cards were wrong.  Turns out Saint Christopher was only Mister Christopher.  They didn’t make a big deal out of the demotion.  The Church didn’t command all the parents who had named kids “Chris” to change their names.  We’ll let the case of Saint Nick alone for now.

            She played with the chain.  “I have to get up.” She said it directly into my ear.  The air from her words — well, blow in my ear and I’ll follow you anywhere.

            “Sure, I’ll make some coffee.”

            “The last time you tried that you took the enamel off my ‘Worlds Best Lawyer’ mug.  I’ll make it.”  She crawled over me to get out of bed.  Sweet Jesus!  That was nice.

            I got a good look at her little ass as she headed for the bathroom.  Damn, God does great work.  Valerie, by the way, is forty-two years old. She’s older than me, which is a little exciting, though I really don’t think about that.  I like women, not girls.  That’s the way I’m built.

            Pretty soon I could smell the French Vanilla.  That got me up.  When I emerged into the kitchen, I grabbed a mug and poured some.  I slopped in a little non-dairy creamer.  Ever wonder what that stuff is?

            I can’t tell you exactly, but I knew a guy who used to work in one of the giant open pit creamer mines in Wyoming.  They’d expose a big shelf of the stuff and then hose it down with high pressure water.  Millions of gallons of non-dairy slurry would flow down to the evaporators.  Then they’d just scoop it off the thousand acre drying pans, pour the powder into railroad hopper cars, and send it east for packaging.  That’s what I heard, anyway.

            I settled back on a chair at the table.  It was my favorite table in the world.  Valerie came in.  She knew what I was thinking.

            “No, you can’t stay, I’ve got to get to work.  You need to go home and change.  That outfit is way too familiar.”

            She wasn’t exactly testy but it was morning, and last night’s religious experience had receded enough so she could be comfortable.  Intimacy can make Val twitch like a tiger dreaming about a zoo. 

            “You going to be Mikey’s lawyer?”


            “You can’t?  Why not?  You said he didn’t do it.”  I felt Mr. Chris.

            “I was Terri’s attorney, asshole.  The Bar would frown on me representing her alleged murderer.”

            “Right, so what are you going to…”

            “I’m going to nose around.  I’ll see what the cops have.  See if I can pick up any more scuttlebutt around the courthouse.  I’m a little curious about why Kensington was so quick to deny knowing Doug Hunter.  And that porn tape – odd.”

            “Yeah he got kind of cranky when you brought up his stay at Assumption.”

            “You said he got in trouble?  That’s why he got sent up there?”

            “That’s what I heard.  He was supposed to go to Yale I think, but he got in trouble his senior year over at Waldo-Francis High.”

            “W.F.H.”  Val laughed.  She knew the rep that rich-kid school had.

            “That’s right.  Wealthy Fuckers High.”

            “What kind of trouble?”

            “Never heard.  It wasn’t unusual for a well-to-do family to dump an incorrigible bit of privileged DNA off at my money hungry alma mater.  They’d get a DUI or a minor drug bust and the options were military school or Assumption.  Catholics usually chose to send the misunderstood moppets along with a big donation to Assumption.”

            “Maybe I’ll check and see if there are any court records.”  Val was chewing on a fingernail – thinking.

            “You know how that kind of thing works, Val.  The records will be sealed.”

            She just muttered, “I have a friend.”  She bit into her thumbnail.  “You got any ideas?”

            “Sure, I’ll figure out something.”  I didn’t tell her that what I’d figured out was, Mikey did dood it — I watched way too many cartoons as a kid.  I needed to talk to my brother.  The first problem; he wasn’t likely to be allowed visitors for awhile.  The second problem was that as a convicted felon, I couldn’t visit him no how.  The third problem… I was afraid of the answer, but I had to ask.  “Who is Mikey’s lawyer then?”

            “Thad Cuddigan.”

            “Thad?  Shit, Mikey’s in real trouble.”

            “Thad stopped drinking a month ago.”

            “That’s what I mean.”  There is, in my mind, nothing worse than a sober drunk.  Even drunk, Cuddigan wasn’t that good.  For a lawyer, he sure couldn’t hold his liquor.  He was my counsel when I was charged with that little safe thing that involved Terri and Mr. Security.  He got me a pretty good plea, then, just as the judge brought down the gavel, Thad threw up on the court reporter.  It was just like Mr. Creosote in that Monty Python movie; glorious, impressive, world record-breaking projectile vomiting, a wonder of nature.  Every time I’m in her courtroom since, she gives me the evil eye.  Who knows what she’s putting in the transcripts.  Why do I always get the blame?  It wasn’t my fault.

            I needed a plan.  I headed towards the door.

            “Leave the mug.  It’s my Michelle Pfeiffer as Cat Woman mug.”

            I noticed she was holding the Michael Keaton half of the set.  When I put down the mug, I realized I had been holding it by the whip.  I slipped my Cubs Jacket on, opened the door, and blew Val a kiss as I closed it.  I should marry that woman.

            I hit the sidewalk.  Valerie’s door opened.  Was she going to blow me a kiss?

            “Don’t get arrested.”  She slammed the door.  


I had a plan.


I’m really good at keeping secrets.

            As long as the secrets involved pertain to something sacred to me.  Specifically, I am good at keeping secrets if revealing them will interfere with my drinking.  Otherwise, I’m a poor security risk.  If I had become a priest, I’d have been babbling about all of Mrs. Guilt-Ridden’s impure thoughts within twenty minutes of leaving the confessional.  Your secrets have no value to me.  Mine are priceless.  I keep them under a lock even I can’t pick.

            I didn’t tell Valerie about the talisman.  I didn’t dare.  She knew Mikey was innocent.  This was her chance to embarrass the authorities.  Her hometown power structure hadn’t treated her well when she started making public legal noises about her dad’s violent habits.  That’s not surprising.  After all, he was the power in the structure.  She loved sticking it to those good old boys, in absentia, by proxy, however you want to put it.  She smelled a little more revenge.  I didn’t dare take that away from her.  The medal stayed in my Cubs Jacket.

            The drive back to Valerie’s was quiet.  At least I was quiet.  I wasn’t paying attention.  I was trying to think.  I don’t know how many near misses occurred en route.  When I closed the door to the apartment, all I felt was tired.  Val kicked off her shoes. 

            I walked over to her, took her face in my hands and – slowly crumpled to the floor after she kneed me, lovingly, in the groin.

            “So you’d rather play Scrabble?”  I barely had enough breath in me for a hoarse whisper.

            “I’m going to take a quick shower.”

            “Really?”  I couldn’t keep the “I’ve-seen-you-naked-and…” out of my voice.

            “You stay the hell out.  I don’t have time for any of your charm right now.”

            “What’s up?”  The nausea was fading.

            “I’ve got a date.”

            The nausea returned.  “A date?  Who in the hell have you got a date with?”

            Val was already halfway down the little hallway off the kitchen, shedding clothes on her way to the bathroom.  “You never listen.  My dinner date – Slow Joe Kensington.  Remember the guy we saw over at St. P’s?”

            “You’re going on a date with that letch?”

            “You are thick, aren’t you?”  I heard the squeak of the faucet as she turned on the water.  There was a splashing sound and then a hiss as she switched it over to the showerhead.  “It’s not really a date.  It’s more of a meeting.  Somebody has to save Mikey.”

            “I’m jealous.”  I was also having a hard time keeping myself from sneaking down the hall and peeking in the half-open bathroom door.

            “Just shut up and go put on some khaki slacks and that nice blue blazer you shoplifted from the Mark Shale store in Kansas City.”  Val’s voice was loud over the white-noise of the shower.

The water was splashing again as it hit her taut body.  I could hear it touch her.  I could see it in my fantasy, flowing like a steamy, crystalline skin over her soft, round, creamy…

“And if you take even the quickest leering dirty look in here at me as you walk by, I’ll land on your puny Johnson with both knees.  Now get dressed.”

“Yes, dear.”  I always do what Val tells me.  Though I must admit I did get half an eyefull on my way to the bedroom closet.

“So I’m going along?”



“Don’t get your hopes up.  This is strictly business.  I figure Kensington might be able to fill us in on what they’ve got on Mikey.”

“Oh yeah, Mikey.”  I honestly had almost forgotten about him.  Fingering the little Saint Christopher medallion in my pocket, I thought about telling Val that I’d changed my mind.  Mikey had done it after all.  Maybe I was still clinging to the outside chance he hadn’t.  Maybe I just didn’t want to get in Val’s way.  That’s never a good idea.

So I was designated back-up for the little tete-a-tete.  We grabbed a cab. For good reason. If we had pulled up to the eatery’s palatial entry in Val’s rolling-slum Neon,  the valet might have called for an emergency tow rather than open the door for her.  The date was at the “Sans Culottes,” the best of the best.  Not an easy place to get a table. Val went in the front.  I had another idea.  I’m just not comfortable with front doors, anyway.

I made a quick stop in the valet lot to check out the car alarms and glove compartments.  I bribed the pimply-faced dishwasher at the backdoor to the place with a really nice CD player – fresh from a Jag.  The headwaiter was a little tougher.  I had to give him a gift certificate for a set of Toyo tires.  It took a couple months, but I got them to him eventually.  My word is my bond. 

Hell, even the busboys were snooty.  I had to bribe them with Duetche Grammophone CD’s I found in a Beemer M-5, mostly baroque stuff with some Debussy mixed in.

Next thing I knew I was wearing a white jacket and standing in the corner six feet from the cute couple’s table.  It seemed to me I could offer Val more help close at hand rather that seated across the room chewing on over-priced lobster.  It was a good thing I was there.  Valerie can’t hold her liquor.

            Sitting at that elegantly set table next to the fireplace with a tuxedoed waiter – that is to say, me — lighting her cigarettes as fast as she could pull them from her little beaded purse, and a rich putz pouring her glass after glass of Cuvee des Caudalies, she was in danger.  She loved danger.  I could see it in her eyes.

            Kensington gave me an odd look or two, but there was was no way he was going to recognize me from our days at Assumption.  I had been a high school geek and he was a big college football star.  Besides, to guys like Kensington, the help is always next to invisible.  It was a perfect set-up.  Besides lighting Val’s cigarettes, I would remove the mostly empty wine bottles when a replacement arrived.  I managed to sneak in a few surreptitious swigs and take in everything that went on.

            Let me explain something.  Valerie looks very good in a simple T-shirt.  There is just something about the way the cotton follows her outline.  A plain white T-shirt, so there’s no graphic noise to interfere with the signal.  She can knock you back a step or two in a pair of jeans or a dress from Target.  If you saw her walking, you’d want to know where she was going.  But she had this one outfit, a little cocktail number with spaghetti straps, a loose neckline, a swirling short hem that let her legs swim through the air, that made you want to include her in your will.  It was blue, but a unique shade that only comes in a big box of Crayolas.  She was wearing the dress that night. 

Her hair flickered like the fire and her green eyes….but hey, I was just standing in the corner watching like a good butler should.  Now, I may have been a little more of a D. H. Lawrence as opposed to a P. G. Wodehouse-type servant, but I was just the hired help.  The fact that I was a little turned on and the random gulp or two of wine beyond my price range will have no effect on the accuracy of my account.  Trust me.

            When Val wants to research a topic, she goes all out.  She had decided that Mikey was innocent.  She was sure the power structure needed to be punished.  D.A. Joseph Kensington was a perfect target.  The fact that he had the hots for her since she came to town made it simple.  And like that security guard Terri helped me with once, he was easy.  When, after years of putting him off, Valerie asked him if he was free for dinner, he didn’t blink.  Of course she asked him out.  He had always known she wanted him.  Gravity had asserted itself.  As far as his scrotum-enclosed brain was concerned, the natural forces of the universe were in balance again.

            Earlier in the day while I was getting drunk, Val had chased Kensington down.  She batted her eyes.  That’s what she told me.  Then she said that Joe kissed her hand, right there in an alcove of the courthouse.  My guess is that he rushed straight into the nearest restroom where he called his wife.  While urinating, and since he was alone, admiring his member, he gave her an awful excuse for missing dinner.

            “Godzilla is loose again.  I must save the people of Tokyo.”  Or at least, I figure it was the equivalent of that.  After his last case of the day, he hustled back to his office, splashed on some Tabarome cologne, and donned his twelve-hundred-dollar suit, kept in the closet for just such an occasion.

            Val filled me in on Joseph F. Kensington on the way to the restaurant.  He had been the D.A. for six years and had never tried a case himself, which tells you a lot about him.  He was from old money.  His great-great-grandfather had cornered the molasses market about a hundred and some years ago.  Thousands of honest suppliers, farmers, families, and their progeny had been cast into generations of poverty.  That made the Kensingtons very respectable.  They were still living off the proceeds here in the twenty-first century.  The crippling power of the evil “Death Tax” hadn’t cost them a single piece of crystal glassware.  And yet, with all that money and status, Kensington was just a D.A.  That’s because he was a buffoon, and not burdened by genius.  The “Slow Joe” moniker was well-earned.  Keep in mind, all the above being true, he was likely to be Governor in a few years.  That’s the perfect office for a buffoon. Hey, you think Governors are not buffoons?  Just look at our recent crop of Presidents.

            Anyway, the blue dress — ah yes — Val wore the dress.  The rest is history.

            “Notice the subtle feel of oak on your tongue,” Kensington said, as he poured her another glass of the Caudalies.

            At this point, to Valerie, it might as well have been cardboard.  In my opinion, if you drink enough, it all tastes like box wine.  And Kensington had been pouring all night.  Val wanted information and was  determined to get it.

            “A delicious Chard Champagne, I’m sure you agree?”  If he got any more full of himself, Val was going to throw up.  I knew that look.

            “Yes, it’s wonderful.”  She half turned, looked at me, and made a little face like she needed to go to the ladies’ room and stretch out her tongue.  She turned back to Kensington.  “So have you prosecuted any of the thugs who blockaded Planned Parenthood last week?”  That would stretch her tongue — an argument.

            Kensington sipped his champagne and shook his head.  “My dear Valerie, why don’t you stop volunteering down there?  You could work for me.  We could travel together.  I have business in London almost every month; family business.  You’d love the shopping.  So much more fun than social work.”

            “So there’ll be no charges?”  A little anger cleared Val’s head.  Frankly, I half agreed with Kensington.  Val was starving as a Public Defender and getting nothing at all for her hours at the Family Planning Clinic.

            “The Church is powerful, Val.  It’s politics.  What the Pope says goes,” he smirked.

            “What about the death penalty?  His Holiness doesn’t like that, either.”  Val was starting to sober up a little.

            “Well, let’s just say his followers aren’t behind him on that one.  Listen, Valerie, you know the realities.  It’s a Catholic conservative city.  I will be true to my creed and my office.”

            Val gave up on sobriety and finished off her drink.  “Sure.”

            Kensington refilled her glass.  “You really must come to my studio.”

            “Your studio?”

            “Yes, I paint.  Surely you knew that.  Nothing too ambitious, I assure you.  A few abstracts.  Neoclassical abstracts — nothing so mealy as Pollack, more in the vein of Paul Klee.  And, from time to time, a few nudes ala George Grosz.”

            She had no idea what he was talking about.  But that didn’t stop her.  She was good at faking it…not with me, of course.  At least, that’s what I told myself.

            “Oh, I love Paul Klee…so…so…so linear.”  She was so sophisticated.  Even though it’s hard to even say “Klee” without giggling when you’re a little tipsy.

            “Well, you must come by and see my work.  In fact, I’d love to do you.”

            “What?”  She arched her eyebrow.

            “Heh heh, I mean paint you.  I’d love to paint you.”

            “In the nude?  You’d want me completely naked, wouldn’t you?  I do hope your studio is warm.  My nipples are very sensitive.  The slightest bit of cool, and they stand up like little pink pawns on a chess board.”

            Kensington swallowed, and swallowed again.  So did I.  He tossed down the remaining vintage, fiddled with his empty glass, adjusted himself in the chair, looked in his empty glass, trembled a bit, reached across the table and drank down Val’s champagne, chewed on a fingernail, motioned to a waiter who refilled his glass, smiled at her, switched to the serious seductive look, smiled again, took another sip of wine, wiped his mouth with his fine linen napkin, fiddled with his tie, then he finally nodded yes.  Kensington had some issues with assertive women.

            “Oh, that might be fun.”  Valerie was back in control.  A little sexual intimidation goes a long way.  “Say, did you hear anymore about the Header murder?”

            He was so grateful she had changed the subject.  “Yes, there have been a few developments, but…”

            “It’s all right. I’m not going to be involved in the case.  You can tell me.”

            She leaned forward, remember the neckline?  She didn’t lean too far, he wouldn’t be able to talk if she did.  She gave the bad little boy just the slightest hint of heaven.  I had a bad angle, but like I’ve said, I have a great imagination.

            His eyes, shifting from her decolletage, were looking for something to roost on behind her.  They scanned right by me and settled on a heavy, patterned drape at the window behind me.  “Yes, a few developments…”

            “Go on, go on.  Don’t tease me, what’s the gossip?”

            “Well it’s more than gossip.  As you know, I’m deeply involved.  In fact, I may take the trial myself.”

            Kensington would only take the case personally if somebody delivered weapons grade anthrax to the DA’s office and wiped out all the real lawyers while he was on vacation.  He was a political D.A., not good at all in the courtroom.  He didn’t — and I’ll be kind here — think quickly on his feet.  Valerie knew that, she’d told me all about him, but she let it pass.  Never hit a puppy who plays with a stick and thinks he’s a wolf.  They’re too cute.

            “So?”  That’s what Val said instead of what I knew she was thinking — “Jesus!  Talk, you stiff!”

            “The murder is really open and shut.  We’ve got witnesses who have Mr. Hutchence arguing with the victim.  Her past history of prostitution and drug dealing with him…oh, he is the corrupter, indeed.  The jury will lap it up.  He’s the last person seen with her.  His semen stain on her blouse…”

            A snort involuntarily escaped from my throat.  I had been mid-chug on the dregs of a Chateau Rothschild.  Mikey’s semen on Terri’s blouse.  Now I wished I’d told Val about the medallion I found.  The son-of-a-bitch was guilty.  Val gave me a quick Marian deathray look.  I settled back into servant mode.  But I was pissed.

            “Really, a semen stain.  How do you suppose that got there?”  The way Valerie said “semen” was positively Penthouse forum.  Was he blushing?  “You did DNA?”

            “Sure, it’s not back yet.  It’ll take a couple weeks.  But the blood typing matches.  The DNA will match, too.”

            “Shades of Bill Clinton.”

            He laughed.  Nothing he liked more than a Bill Clinton joke.  Like I said, it’s a Republican town.  And the Kensingtons are veddy Republican.

            “That’s it?”

            “Well, that’s probably enough, but we also found her purse.  It was under her.  Mostly empty, but there was one thing of interest.”


            “This is pretty sensitive.  You can’t leak it.”

            “Do I ever talk out of school?  You know me better than that.”

            Everybody knew her better than that.  He knew better.  Valerie was a barracuda.  If she knew something she could use, she used it.  Secrets were power.  Secrets were bait.  The Barracuda was swimming his way, and “Slow Joe” swam right into her mouth.

            “It’s a videotape,” he whispered.

            “What’s on the tape?”

            “It’s really quite upsetting, but what do you expect from people like that?  There’s some very sick pornography on the tape.”  Kensington’s lip sneered.  His eyes didn’t.  “Perversity.  Quite upsetting.”

            From where I stood it was hard to believe that Kensington was a stranger to the concept.

            Val leaned forward.  “Oooo, perversity?  Pornography?”  Thew way she said it was perverse and pornographic.  “Just what variety of perversity?”  I could see Val’s tongue as she enunciated each of the “T’s.”

            “Well the tape is very worn.  I really can’t go into detail.  Suffice to say that it does not show Mr. Hutchence in a very good light.”

            I might have laughed had the situation been different.  Mikey in a porno tape?  I hoped the lighting was bad. 

Val must have been thinking along the same lines.  “Mikey… er… Mr. Hutchence is in the tape?”

“We think it’s him.  The tape has been played a thousand times, our expert thinks.  But in the context it seems clear.  Miss Header found the tape.  Mr. Hutchence found out she had it when she tried to blackmail him.  One witness heard her mention some sort of pictures to him at the Palomino Club just before the accused got very angry.  And so he killed Miss Header.”

            “A tight little package, Mr. Kensington.”  She was trying to sound light.

            “Yes, indeed.”

            I was thinking, “Bullshit.”  I mean, how in the hell do you blackmail a meth-dealer, who hangs out in topless bars, with a pornographic tape?  That’s like trying to extort money from Rupert Murdoch with a photo of him buying white-slaves in North Dakota.  He ain’t gonna fucking care.  Everybody knows about his Dakota deal already.  It was in the Wall Street Journal, for Christ’s sake.

            “We will convict him.  If it comes to that.”

            “If it comes to that?”

            “There will never even be a trial.”  Kensington sounded like a man discussing green beans.

            “A plea?”

            “If he’s lucky.”  Was Kensington more than a doofus?  He sounded like he was trying to communicate something to my dear brother through Val.  A bit of play-acting?  This guy was very different.

            Valerie turned, grabbed a mostly empty bottle right out of my hands, sloppily refilled her glass with the dregs, and chugged it.  That was about a fifty dollar chug.  Kensington signaled me – the humble servant — for another.

            “Mais Ouis, Mon Sewer.”  My French was rusty.  I turned to the wine steward and shouted the only phrase I could remember from high school.  “Je voudrais une coupe de cheveux.  Toute suite.”

            Kensington did half a double-take, then he dismissed the small thought that may have briefly appeared in his brain-stem and turned back to Valerie’s breasts.  “There are other little items involving Mr. Hutchence’s family.”

            “Scandalous stuff?” Val asked.

            “Perhaps worse than the pornography.  He had a lot to cover up.”

            Val was thinking like a lawyer again.  “Then why did he leave the tape behind?”

            “Mr. Hutchence is a criminal, Valerie, not the most intelligent exemplar of humankind – a waste of God’s breath.”  Kensington had an odd way of phrasing his conceit.

            “He’s never shown any history of this sort of thing in his past, has he?”

            “Now you are sounding like a defense lawyer, dear.  The fact is, he did it.  We have him and we will convict him.”

            “Yes, of course you will.”  Valerie was leaning again.  She used leaning like Big Carl did.  But she used a different kind of threat.  “I wouldn’t want to go up against you…on this case.”

            “Yes, but I’d like to go up against you…?  Are you sure you wouldn’t like a trip to London?  All expenses… paid, shall we say?”  He was trying.  But he wasn’t used to a woman like this.  He liked the victim type.  Flirting is an art.  Kensington was no artist.

            “A real shame.  I heard that the Header woman was turning her life around, too.”

            “Do people like that ever really change?”  Kensington savored the rhetorical question. What an asshole.  “A waste of God’s breath.”  He’d said it again.

            “She was clean — off drugs.  She had a job.”

            “You’re right about both.  Toxicology did come back clean, for known drugs, anyway.  And she did have a job.  I should say, she had a job– past tense.  According to her employer, she was fired Sunday morning.  Maybe that’s why she decided to blackmail the paternal Mr. Hutchence.”

            “She got fired?  Where was she working?”

            “Weren’t you her lawyer?”  Kensington was sipping his bubbly now.  Dessert arrived.  I stepped forward quickly with a lighter as Val pulled out her fifteenth cigarette of the evening.  I was determined to give only the highest level of service.  Maybe I’d get a tip.

Kensington had a chocolate mousse.  Valerie’s weakness was creme brulee.

“You were her lawyer?”  Kensington asked like Val was on a witness stand.  “Did she tell you about any of her drug activities?  Were you aware of her involvement in any crimes other than prostitution?  When was the last time you spoke to her?  Kensington hardly took a breath.  The string of questions was amatuerish.  If “Slow Joe” was trying to get information out of Val, he was sniffing at the wrong crotch.

“That would be confidential, Joe.”  She sighed his name.

He heard the sex in her voice.  There was a pause.  “It’s… It’s a criminal investigation.  If you know anything about her involvement with selling drugs… street drugs… or… Did she ever say she was selling prescription drugs?”  Kensington was way too interested.

“How would I know, Joe?”  That thing in the way she said his name again.  Hot.

He cleared his throat.  A waiter passed, and Kensington grabbed a gin and tonic, tall, right off the tray.  He chugged it, slammed the empty glass back down, and ignored the waiter’s cross look.  “You must know.  You were her lawyer.”

            “Was….haven’t seen her for over a year.”  Val tapped on the crust and lifted just a spoon-tip full to her lips.  If men tasted like this, she would give head every night.  I knew that’s what she was thinking.  I hoped, anyway.

            Kensington saw something in her eyes as she licked the spoon clean, with an almost obscene method.  He returned to the subject.

            “She was fired for stealing.”

            “Really?”  Val raised another spoonful to her moist lips.  “What did she steal?”

            “Things…just things, I don’t think that’s specifically in the report.  She was taking household goods, I imagine.”  He couldn’t watch her eat.  “Did you know that there is still an outstanding warrant out for Terri on a drug charge?”  Kensington asked the question as casually as he could.

            Val’s tongue was so pink.  “An old charge lost in your efficient office.”

            Kensington looked up, and there was a second when his eyes looked very cold – very cruel.  For just a second, I had the uncomfortable feeling again that he was playing her.  Then the moment passed, and he had the look of a dog who wanted to hump a leg again.  “Well, we are very busy.”

            She raised another spoon of the crème to her mouth.  Her tongue slowly reached out and touched it, pulling away with a small dollop on its tip.  His eyes were wandering around the room.  She looked at him.  “So where did she work?”

            He remembered to breathe.  “Another…another bit of irony there.  She was a housekeeper.  She worked for Father Hunter at St. Philomena’s.  He was quite upset with the news.  Detective Vandy told me he almost cried.”

            Father Hunter?  I knew Douglas Hunter.  I knew he was in virtual exile at the old parish.  I hadn’t realized that Terri had worked there.  My stomach was turning sour.  Val’s little show with the dessert distracted me again.

            Another spoonful stopped halfway to Val’s mouth, then after a heartbeat, continued until it was just an eighth of an inch away.  “He must be a very sensitive man.”  The creme brulee melted.

            “Oh, yes, as a matter of fact, he is.  I met Father Hunter at my last art show opening.”

Val licked her lips.  “You didn’t know Father Hunter from your days at Assumption?”

“No!”  Kensington almost yelled the denial.  His eyes widened.  Val even flinched a little.  The anger was red-hot and sudden.  “No!”  Then a little suck of air.  “I mean… No, I never knew him there that I recall.”  It was the common non-denial denial of our American political class.  “I don’t recall…”

Val licked her spoon and let him off the hook.  “Go on.”

“As I was saying, I met Father Hunter at my last art show.  He was there with the Chancellor.  Wonderful man, he even bought one of my works.  Or, I should say, the Chancellor bought it for him.  It was an exploration of man’s separation from the Divine.  I used a palate full of primary colors.  Those, in my mind, speak to the original state of creation.  Yellow, blue, red, the primacy of the primary.  Then I mixed in umber and a steely gray to build the wall of original sin…”

            “Ah, yes, original…”  the spoon again, “…sin.”

            “I’m heavily influenced by Mirot.”

            I remember wondering how a world that produced anything as exquisite as the creme brulee on Val’s pink tongue could also have room for the asinine turd on the other side of the table from my Valerie.  And why had he so clearly indicated that he had met Father Hunter at one of his art shows?  I hoped Val wouldn’t ask about the D.A.’s presence at the Rectory the previous night.  That might be dangerous.  I felt that strongly.

            “I titled it…”

            “Let me guess.  You titled it ‘Man’s Separation from the Divine’.”

            “You are a wonder, Valerie.  Shall we go over to my studio?  I could show you the studies I did while working on it.”

            “Perhaps we could start on my portrait as well.  I would love to get out of these clothes.”

            “Yes…well…if you like.”

            They left without paying the bill.  Kensington had a tab.  She was sure he was a lousy tipper, too.  On the way out, she slipped the guy who had been lighting her cigarettes a twenty.  You never penalize a working stiff for a bad dinner companion.  Valerie was really feeling the wine.  I think she forgot who I was.  It’s the kind of thing that happens to people when they drink for a good chunk of time sitting down and then suddenly stand up.  I took the twenty.  Watched the two of them head for the exit, and then I ducked out the back to catch the final scene out front.

I could see it in her eyes when I came around the corner of the building;. Val had decided to go for the kill.  There they were, standing at the curb, waiting for the valet to get Mr. Kensington’s car.  Valerie whispered something in his ear.  He seemed to take half a step back, but she pursued.  She whispered again, and his shoulders started to twitch a little.  She put her hand on his forearm and licked her lips like an expensive call girl in a cheap porno reel.  He craned his neck.  Where was that car?  Why was it taking so long?

            Then the piece de resistance, and why I love Val so much.  She snuggled into him, and her hand drifted from his forearm down past his belt buckle to his crotch.  She firmly, but not painfully, gripped his penis.  This wasn’t easy.  Apparently it was a small target, and getting smaller.  And then she said, loudly enough for the parking attendants to hear, “It’s just a small herpes episode, Joe.  And I’ve taken my anti-virals.  This will be fun.”

            Kensington backed up six feet in half a second.  He almost left his zipper behind, but she had mercy.  He answered his cell phone, which hadn’t rung, and mumbled an excuse.

            “My son has come down with leprosy.  I must hurry home,”  Or at least, it was the equivalent of that.  He handed the kid a one dollar bill, jumped into the Big Black Benz and squealed away from “The Sans Culottes.”

Val gave the kid a five, and he got us a cab.

Valerie’s got style.  She looked so good in that blue dress.  It was like the prom night I never had.  Val was going on and on about how she was going to get Kensington.  She mumbled some stuff about her dad.  She cried on my shoulder and told me that I was the only man who understood her.  And she gave me a big hug when I paid for the cab at the end of the trip back to her apartment.  I used the twenty she’d given me earlier.

            I’m shameless.


Did I mention that Mikey is my brother?

            That puts another hue on the palate, doesn’t it?  My family is more screwed up than you imagined.  I know it.  Hey, I’m not ashamed.  We are what we are.  If you think your family’s a little slice of Leave it to Beaver, fine.  But I suggest you start rummaging through your memory and figure out what Wally was doing in the bathroom.  Maybe you’ll wise up to the deeper Freudian meaning of June’s pearl necklace.  Don’t be too quick to judge me and mine.  I’m trying not to condemn anyone or anything here.  I’m just telling the story.  Take it for what it’s worth.  When I’m finished, think whatever you want to think.

            After the boys hauled Mikey out of Abe’s, I gave my statement to Vandy’s cohort Emilio.  Just the facts, ma’am. 

            I left Abe’s and walked north towards it-didn’t-matter.  I had the buzz and a throbbing headache.  But the buzz is like morphine.  You keep the pain, but you lose the caring.  I just walked.  I was right at the point where I could think about things I didn’t want to think about.  I drink for these perfect moments.  Some people have them sober.  So they say.  I have difficulty believing them.

            That particular moment, I started thinking about Torey.  It was a family moment.  You see, Mikey had been married to Kim.  Torey was the kid in the mix.  He was the cutest little tyke, too.  At age five, he shoplifted thirty dollars worth of gum from Woolworth’s.  By the time he was seven he was boosting bikes from the private Prep school up by Further Creek Country Club.  It was a long walk up there.  He was showing initiative and the right touch of disdain for the rich.  When he was nine, I taught him Three Card Monty.  You know, where you put down three cards, one is the Queen of Hearts, you shuffle them around, and you bet the mark he can’t find the lady.  The kid was a natural.  I taught him other stuff, too, like six ways to open a locked sliding glass patio door, the ins and outs of gambling on football…don’t, and Canadian rules chess.  I was trying to be a good “Uncle.”  Mikey wasn’t much of a family man.

            Mikey tried, but he’s the wrong kind of canvas for that sail.  I made an attempt to help Mikey be a good “dad.”  I set up times for the three of us to go out together.  I even stole a camcorder and made a tape of the two of them at Fairyland Park.  I shot them riding a roller coaster.  There was a fun scene of them sliding down the big slide.  The Tilt-a-Whirl sequence was great until Mikey threw up.  There was all sorts of father-son stuff like that.  That was the only time they really had fun together.  I gave Torey the tape, and he treasured it.  He never went anywhere without that damned video.  He carried it in his backpack with his baseball glove year ‘round.  One time I went to see him and he was feeling down, I guess.  When I went up to his room and peeked in, he was watching the tape.  His eyes were so big.  He might have been crying.  I just snuck out of the house.  I’m good at sneaking out.

            I was the one Torey turned to when things went kaboom.  I remember him riding a stolen Razor scooter up James Street looking for me.  He was about eleven then.

            “Torey, what’re you doing here?  Shouldn’t you be harassing a phys-ed teacher about now?”  I was concerned about the kid’s education.

            “Hey, Tools.”

            “Don’t call me that.”  I cuffed his ear.  “Why aren’t you learnin’ stuff?”

            “Got kicked out for a week.”

            “What did you do?”

            “Borrowed some money.”


            “Well, I was going to give it back.”

            “Torey, I’ve told you a million times.  Never borrow money.”

            “O.K. I stole it.”

            “That’s better.”  I was trying to teach the kid to be honest.  A thief should always be up front about what he’s doing.  Rationalizing always gets you into trouble.

            “Anyway, I was looking for you.”  Torey had that weak little smile of his going.  The one that he used when he was upset.  I was pretty tuned into his moods.

            “What’s going on?”

            “I caught Mikey…”

            “You mean dad?”

            “Yeah, I guess.   I caught dad humping’ Terri the Head.”  The smile got a little wider.  He was embarrassed.

            “Oh, shit.  You caught ‘em?”

            “Yeah, Mikey’s…er, dad’s bare butt was sticking up in the air, and Terri was under him and…”

            “Spare me the details.  You didn’t tell…”

            “I told mom.”

            “…mom.  Oh, shit.”  Then we both started laughing.  Men — and boys — do that when they ought to cry.           

            Well, Torey may have been grossed out and eventually laughing, and I may have been laughing, but little mom, Kim, sure wasn’t.  To her, it was the ultimate sin. Mikey and Terri were getting it on in the family room — Kim’s family room.  Bad move, Mikey.  Torey told mom.  Kim had taken three extra Ativan.  She talked to her latest boyfriend about the situation.  Then she took another Ativan and decided to kick the creep out even before the last pill kicked in.

            Kim wanted out of the neighborhood anyway.  So she got a good job up north.  She moved to the “nice” part of town.  Torey started going to a ritzy Catholic school, Infant of Prague or something.  I didn’t see him as much after he moved.  That’s the way Kim wanted it, and I didn’t put up any argument.  That’s my sin.  But like on his last birthday, I did send him a Nintendo that I picked up near the K-mart.  I did miss the kid.  Meanwhile, Mikey just got slimier.

            Why Mikey and I are so different is one of those puzzles that the giants have wrestled with for eons.  All the thinkers, the philosophers, the theologians, psychologists, scientists, educators, girlfriends, have tried to figure it out.  They’ve come up with theories, religions, novels, and the Home Shopping Network in their vain attempts to explain it.  I used to ponder it too.  Then one day, after four or five Margaritas on a Costa Rican beach, I had an epiphany.  I figured it out.

            I can’t remember now, though.  It’s there in my head.  I just can’t pull it up.  It’s right next to where I boiled all of human philosophy down to four words, Plato to Kant to B.F. Skinner; “I want my mommy.”  It’s close to that thought, “Mommy.”  I left home when I was thirteen.  Mikey left home when she died.  He was exposed to the radiation longer than I was.  Maybe that’s it.

            Mikey and Kim were history.  That’s about the time Terri straightened out.  After treatment, she moved to the Lysistrata Halfway House.  She stayed clean — even after they kicked her out for failing  to remain chaste.  She kept herself straight. She’d even gotten a real job — at some church, no less.  That’s what I heard, anyway.  All this was about seven months back.  So why was she talking to Mikey again at the Palomino last night?

            Whatever, she was crying.  Why was she crying?  Mikey looked upset, scared, or angry.  They left the Palomino together around ten.  They found her just after midnight.  So Mikey had broken her neck, raped her and…. wait…. raped her, then broken her neck… and then dumped her body up on the Albino Farm.  That made sense, because everybody knew he had a thing with Terri in the past.  Everybody knew he was a sleaze.  About a hundred people saw them at the strip club last night.  It was the most imperfect murder in history. 

            That’s when I realized, Mikey didn’t do it.

            The sun hit the horizon on the way down.  No, that’s not a symbol.  If you find any hidden meanings in this, they’re all yours.  I hope you do better than the sun going down coincidence.  The sun set, that’s all.  I looked up at darkening sky.  It looked too clean for Vaporville, but there it was.  That’s when Valerie almost ran me over.

            I had stepped out into the street like an idiot while I stared slack-jawed at the sunset.  I was in a trance.  My brother didn’t kill my friend — a little break for the family karma.  I brushed up against my favorite state-of-mind, self-pity.  Reality intruded before I could dish up a full helping.  A car door handle brushed my wrinkled khakis.  The passenger window slid down.

            “Get in the car before they arrest you for vagrancy.”  Valerie loved me again.

            I maneuvered my way in carefully.  When it comes to Valerie’s car, size does matter.  My size did not match its size.  She drove a Neon, Dodge’s revenge on me for all the K-cars I had broken into over the years.  Easiest locks ever, until keyless entry came along.  I’ll get to that, too.  My knees were right up against my chin.  My body was so compressed that if we hit anything, my internal organs would pop like bubble wrap at a slumber party.  The way Val drove, internal hemorrhaging was a very clear and present danger.

            “Hey, Valerie.  Thanks for the ride.”

            “Stuff it.  You weren’t going anywhere.  You drunk?”

            “Silly question.”

            She sighed, but let it go.  “You all right?  Sorry I was a bitch this morning.”

            “That’s O.K., Val.  I understand.”  As usual, the wrong thing to say.

            “Fuck you.  Don’t you dare understand me.  I wasn’t that big a bitch.”  Val has a problem with empathy sometimes.  When it comes from other people it feels like sympathy to her, and Val hates sympathy.

            “Yeah, sorry.”  I was mumbling.  My head hurt.  “Why are you picking me up?”

            “I went into work.  Everybody’s talking about Terri at the courthouse.  I thought maybe you could use a friend.”  Now she was being empathic.  Or was it sympathy?  I am easily confused after a few dozen beers. 

            “A friend, yeah.”  I really didn’t want Val as a friend.

            “Everybody was talking about the murder.  I started thinking about it and…”  She broke the news gently.  “They arrested Mikey.”

            “I know.”  I did my best Shake n’Bake impression.  “…and I hepped.”  I was joking but I wasn’t smiling.

            “What do you mean, helped?  Do I want to know?”  She was asking a lot of questions again.  What a day, nothing but questions.

            “He came to Abe’s. Wanted me to get  him in touch with you.  Vandy showed up with the Flying Squad.  I was forced to put the finger on my dear brother.  He was hiding behind a case of toilet paper.”

            “They use toilet paper at Abe’s now?” 

            That’s why I loved Valerie. 

             “He didn’t do it.”  I braced myself for some of Val’s mutant feminist anger.  She hates Mikey.  See, she’s a feminist.  She thinks women get a raw deal in our patriarchical society.  Young girls get pigeon-holed and discouraged by a sexist educational system.  Adolescent females become sexualized too soon by the secret Humbert Humbert-Lolita agenda at the core of our mass media.  She would occasionally rail on about the psycho-sexual violence in the deep dark diseased heart of our culture, the organized mass marketing of pathological body images and so on.  I never said a word when she was on one of those rants.  I’d just keep reading my SI swimsuit issue.

            Mikey is like the poster boy for all of those male sins.  I would never defend him on those charges.  I just knew he hadn’t killed Theresa, and I knew Valerie would violently disagree.  Underline violently.

            “He didn’t do it.”  Please don’t hit me.

            She gave me the you’re-a-typical-male stare.   “Of course he didn’t.  He’s a sleazy genetic dead-end, no offense to your bloodline, but he didn’t kill her.  I know that.” 

            See how smart I am… except when it comes to women.  As usual, I’d misread which way Val was going.  Males are morons when females are involved.  Even Einstein had an ex-wife.

            “Yeah, everyone knew he used her.  Everybody knew she quit him.  Too many people saw them quarrel or whatever last night.  Mikey ain’t that stupid,”  I said.

            “Oh my sweet little deluded man, yes he is.  Your brother is a certifiable cretin.  When he was fifteen, didn’t he sell marijuana to a cop sitting in a patrol car?”

            “Yeah, but it was kind of dark.”

            “Did he, or did he not, try to steal a semi-load of cigarettes while the driver, the very big driver, was bunked out in the berth?”


            “And how about the time he tried to hold-up that bar…”

            “Our uncle’s place?”

            “He didn’t even wear a mask.  Then there was the time he stole the FBI agent’s cell phone.”

            “Hey, free long distance for three months…”

            “With the Feds listening to every word, and all those phone numbers so neatly organized on the bill they received from Verizon.”

            She was building a pretty good case.  If Valerie had replaced Marcia Clark, O.J. would’ve worn the Brunos to court and confessed to Judge Ito before the court cartoonist finished coloring in the red on F. Lee Bailey’s nose.

            “And what about his ear piece and the sure-fire way to rip off the casino blackjack table?

            “He never got caught.”

            “Caught?  He lost over twenty thousand dollars.  Why on earth would they want to catch him?”

            “Look out!” 

            Val ran a red light.  A Hardware Hank van almost T-boned us. Squealing tires, tortured asphalt — oh, the inhumanity!  Suddenly my spleen hurt.

            She cranked the wheel right and continued without losing a beat.  “The point is, Einstein, Mikey is stupid enough to do it.  He’s also amoral enough to do it, and sociopathic enough not to feel bad about it.  He’s sleazy.  He’s an asshole.  He’s an absolute candidate to murder someone…eventually.  I just don’t think…”

            “God, Val!”  She almost took the side mirror off a parked Lexus.  Her unpredictable way of using her hands, her ability to wait to the last millisecond before stopping, her penchant for swerving towards poles,  the way she completely shut out the world around her until she arrived at her destination, the friction free environment she created; yes, the things that made her a great lover made her the most dangerous driver in the world.

            I could hear the sidewalls of the driver side tires rubbing up against the curb on the median strip.  By the way, it was the same median strip adopted by the Ku Klux Klan in the “Adopt a Median Strip Clean-up Campaign.” You may have heard about the court case.  The Klan won the right to clean up the strip in Federal Court about a year back.  That was the last publicity the thing got.  That was the last time they appeared to tidy up.

            Terrell Johnson — he owns the BBQ place on 11th called “Let-me-rip-out-yer Ribs” — and I got together.  He does big business.  We’d take all the garbage from his place — rib bones, chicken bones, saucy napkins — down to that median strip and dump it off in the middle of the night.  Musta’ worn the Klan out.  The sign’s still up and most of the bones are still there, too.  It’s an appropriate shrine to the legacy of the Klan.

            “Valerie, stay close to the middle…” 

            A green rib bone bounced off the trunk lid.  She continued her thought.  “I just don’t think he did it.  Remember when he was arrested with the eighteen cases of stolen Arrow Vodka?  How did they catch him?”

            “He left it in his driveway.”

            “Right, because he was too lazy to carry it into the garage, all of six feet away.  And when they busted him when he was packaging the coke…”

            “Didn’t shut the blinds.”

            “He didn’t do it because he’s lazy.  When I was down at the courthouse earlier, while you were living the high life at Abe’s, I talked to Kensington, the D.A.  Nothing’s formal yet, but word is, with all the rain Saturday, the Albino Farm was empty Saturday night.  Only one pair of unidentified tracks going up and tearin’ ass out.  Those obviously belong to the theorized Sunday night teen patrons.  Kensington was a bit concerned, but he said the cops weren’t worried about how your lovely brother got her up there.  I’m going to try to get more out of Kensington later.”


            “Later.  They’ve got something else on him.  But all that said, I know Mikey would’ve had to carry Terri’s body up there — up the big, tall, nasty hill. Ergo:  he’s guilty, all right,  just not of this crime.”

            “Yeah, you can’t drive up there after a soaker.  The road gets muddy, and you can’t get up enough speed, so the albinos’ll catch you.  Pretty scary.”

            “Who started calling that place the Albino Farm anyway?”  Like I said, Valerie’s a Stanford girl.  She ain’t from these parts.

            “I don’t know, counselor.  Probably some horny proto-con-man teenager back in the twenties.  He made that great discovery that so many men have made.”


            “Scared girls put-out.” 

            Val shook her head.  “What kind of stupid-ass girl would believe that albinos were going to pour out of the woods and…and…what exactly would they do?”

            “Terrible things, horrible things, their pink eyes glowing in the dark.  The albino boys would creep up on the parked car with its steamed up windows, rip the car door open and pin the poor teenage make-out artist down while grabbing the poor innocent object of his affection.”

            “Hey, I was a teenage girl once,” said Val, as she took a corner in a powerslide.  I could smell the burning rubber — an appropriate odor for the moment.  “Don’t give me innocent.”

            “Well, you gals like to play innocent.  That’s most of the fun.  Anyway, the albino boys would give the girl a choice.  Either have sex with the whole pale gang and be free, or refuse and die a terrible death while her boyfriend has the color sucked out of him and is condemned to wander the Albino Farm as a colorless zombie.”

            “You went up there when you were a kid, didn’t you?”

            “How could you tell?”

            “It’s that pasty complexion of yours.”  Val swerved around a wino, just clipping his brown paper bag.  It was a waste of Mad Dog.

            “There was a catch.”

            “With men and sex there always is,” she said.

            “If the girl gave in and let the albinos have their way…”  I was doing my best spooky campfire voice.  I paused for effect.

            Val stole the punchline.  “If she gave in, the pimply-faced boyfriend goes free, and the woman ends up with a bleached white fetus growing in her blood red womb.”

            “You know the Albino Farm legend?”

            “Not tough to see where that was going.  Typical male propaganda.  Either way, no matter what the girl decides, she’s on the short end, dead or pregnant with a bleached baby. Meanwhile, the guy wins.  He’s either set free or turned into an albino sex machine, a win-win situation for your typical male adolescent.  It’s bullshit.”

            “Girls went for it all the time.  It’s the adventure.  Otherwise, you might as well just park behind the grain elevator.” 

            She looked at me like I was a fly on her PBJ.  “Even a stupid, simple-minded, drug-addled, emotionally troubled  teenage girl would see through that bullshit in a heartbeat.”

            “Of course.”

            “You mean…”

            “Sure, and you of all people should know.  Women, even young women always know.  Fear and lust always hold hands, Val.”

            “God, that was profound.  Bottom line, Marty, there are no albinos and there is no farm, but they call it the Albino Farm?”

            “That’s right.”  I should have said left.  Val ran a red light and missed a Budweiser truck by inches.  There would have been a riot in Vaporville if she’d hit him.


            “The Albino Farm is one of those magic places.  Haunted spots that exist in every city, every town.  Like your old girlfriend Sally and all of her crystal new age shit.  The Albino Farm is an energy locus.  A place where fate touches the earth and powers are unleashed and…”

            “And bras are unfastened.”  Val laughed.

            “Precisely.”  I had to give her that point.  Suddenly, I was turned on.  No, I was terrified.  The Neon hit a two-foot deep pot hole, angled towards a safety railing, and at the last second, locked up the brakes and stopped.  Riding with Valerie was damn near pornographic.

            “So that’s a no on the whole making out thing?”

            “Just get out of the car.”

            “Listen, Val, I’m sorry…”

            “I know you are.”  She sighed.  “Relax, I’m getting out, too.  I want to show you something.”

            “Oh, O.K.”  I was almost sober.  When I’m sober, all I’m usually interested in is getting not sober.  Val wanted to show me something.  I’d try to be interested.  It was in my best interest.

            She’d parked, and I use the term incorrectly, right in front of St. Philomena’s Catholic Church.  I could barely open the door, she was so close to a line of untrimmed bushes.  I unfolded out the door, scratched my face on some branches, and joined her in the middle of the street where it was safe. 

            Up a little embankment was the stained gray granite sanctuary.  Built back in the Twenties, before Vaporville was Vaporville, before the area was called Dogtown, before the neighborhood was known as the Southside, when this was the heart of town, the church was small scale gothic.  Square and heavy, the nave was crowned with an ornate tall steeple that didn’t fit the style.  Some robber baron had bought salvation with a big donation and demanded the rococo appendage, architecture be damned.  I don’t really know that for sure.  But it sounds right.  I’m just trying to give you a sense here.  Trust me.

            A matching squat house to the left; that’s the rectory.  A cemetery to the right, the buildings surrounded by a five-foot-high stone wall, were on a shelf that ran about forty yards back to a steep wooded bluff  The elevation took about an eighty degree shot up about two hundred feet to a little gap at the crest.  That was the lookout — and the Albino Farm.

            “See that hill?”  She pointed at the hill.

            “That hill?”  I pointed at the hill.  Just two people in the middle of the street pointing at a hill.

            She gave me the “stop being a smartass” look.  I stopped pointing.

            “So, with no tracks leading away on the old muddy road out of there except for Romeo’s and Juliet’s, the kids who discovered the body, there’s only one way up.  And from this side it ain’t easy.  The perpetrator had to schlep the body up a couple hundred yards of overgrown bluff.  And first he’d have to toss it over two walls.  The front and back church gates are locked at night.  Apparently, there are a lot of thieves in the neighborhood.”  She gave me one of her quick,  “you poor S.O.B.” looks.  Apparently Val disapproved of my profession.

            “Let’s take a peek.”  As soon as I spoke, I regretted it.  I was willing to believe Mikey was, here’s a laugh, innocent.  But if I took the first step towards that church, I would be committed to help.  I had a small problem or two with commitment.  He was my brother.  He was a low life.  I didn’t even like him.  Shit, he was family. I took a step.

            By now it was pretty dark.  Whenever I went to Abe’s, the day dissolved.  The front gate, with a stone arch, led to a wide walkway up to the church steps.  There was a big rusty lock on the wrought iron bars.  It looked like something out of “Fall of the House of Usher” starring Vincent Price.  I don’t even need tools for those.  I fiddled and, with a little scrape, the lock popped open.

            No, I’m not going to tell you how.  I’m not doing a manual for young burglars here.  Kids go on the internet and learn how to make bombs, how to make drugs, how to be snipers.  I’m not going to be part of that kind of thing.  Like I told you, I’m a really smart guy.  There isn’t a lock I can’t open.  Locks are easy.  I can do other stuff, too, as you’ll see, but I’m not going to explain how.  If you want your own atomic bomb, do a Google search.

            If you walk around past the steps, there’s a fork in the walkway.  Pick it up.  Look for the spoon.  Sorry, my jokes are better when I’ve had a few.  Anyway, to the left is the rectory.  There were some lights on the backside.  The priest was probably eating alone in the kitchen.  Father Douglas Hunter was an odd bird.  I knew, because I’d been in the seminary with him.

            Turned out he wasn’t alone.  Val and I ducked back into the shadow of a ten foot juniper as two men came out of the rectory’s back door.  A thin shadow of a man stood on the lit threshold letting them out.  The yellow beam from the priest’s kitchen fanned out and filled in a wedge of illumination.  The two men looked like a couple of heavies in a Raymond Chandler movie heading down the path.  Heading right for us.

            The shorter man turned his head as he walked and looked back at the silhouette in the Rectory door.  “Just stay calm.  And don’t talk to anyone!”  His tone was cultured and reassuring in a slimy way.

            “Yes.  Yes.  All right.  Thank you, sir.”  Doug Hunter, answering from his doorway, didn’t sound reassured.  He sounded tired.

            The men came closer.  The tall guy was wearing a hat.  Mister culture left a wave of cologne in his wake.  I salivated – fresh cookies in the oven.  He smelled fattening.  It triggered a small déjà vu episode.  There was some memory trying to get out of my nose. 

            They walked right by us.  I wiped away the drool.  The rectory door shut, and the shadow we were standing in spread out to cover the walkway again. 

            Val made a noise and bit my finger.  I’d put my hand over her mouth without thinking.  “Your technique with women is a bit primitive.”  She was Lauren Bacall all of a sudden.

            “Sorry, Val.”  My Bogart was below average.

            “Did you i.d. the cop?’  Val was in fine film noir mode now.

            “The cop?”  I hadn’t noticed.

            “You didn’t see the hat?  Dead give away, lover.  A cop hat usually sits on a cop’s head.”

            “The tall guy was a cop?  Son-of-a-bitch.”  A tall cop, no doubt Mr. Piss Puddle himself, Redlands, was half the couple — the TV star from the news bulletin of Terri’s murder.  But what was he doing at the church at that late an hour?  Getting a new rosary?

            “The short guy was the D.A., Kensington, Joseph Francis Kensington — my dinner date.”  Val said the name like there was a dead cockroach on her tongue.

“Dinner date?  Slow Joe Kensington?  Sure are a lot of Assumption alumni around.”

“Assumption alumni?”

“Yeah.  You know, my alma mater.”

“The seminary?  The big dumb cop went to the seminary?  You’re not making sense, Marty.”

“No, not the cop.  I went to Assumption.  Knew Doug Hunter there.  And “Slow Joe” got his nickname there.”

“Kensington was a seminarian?”

“Not all the students were on the priesthood track.  Some were just regular students.  Kensington was a few years ahead of me.  He was at Assumption College when I was there at Assumption High School– same campus.  I didn’t really know him.  I never hung out with the jocks.  He was in some kind of trouble in Tirawa so his parents shipped him there.  “Slow Joe” played football for the Assumption Friars.  A real bully.”

“Sure isn’t in football shape anymore,” Val said.

“Yeah.  Chubby fat-fingered guy now.  What do you suppose the D.A. is doing here?”

            Val shook her head.  “And I’m figuring you’re going to clear your brother?”  She didn’t have much confidence in me as a sleuth.    Neither did I.  “Kensington is more than a D.A.”

            “More than a breath mint?” 

            “Hold the clever quips, Marty.  Kensington hardly ever actually prosecutes people.  He’s rich as hell and has a lot of political clout.  That’s why he’s in the D.A.’s office.  He’s a fixer.”

            “Two mints in one,” I said.

            Val almost slapped me.  “Be serious.  I wonder what he’s doing here?”

            “Hell, I’m not even sure what we’re doing here.”

            “We’re going to the crime scene.”

            I looked up at the towering bluff behind the church.  Climbing that in the dark? “Aw shit.”

            We turned right on the path.  We walked behind the church, past the doors to the sacristy.  That’s like backstage.  About twenty yards farther, we were in the cemetery. 

            “This is a little creepy,”  Val whispered, a little human hiss in the graveyard.

            “Want to make out now?”  My voice boomed like the announcer at Yankee Stadium.

            Val jumped a foot into the air.  “Knock it off.”

            “Relax, Val.  Nothing bad has ever happened to me in a cemetery.  A few good things have like…”

            “Knock it off.  Where’s the back gate?”

            I’d been here before, as I was about to explain, with Janice Funk.  She had eyes like her last name… nevermind… and cute inverted…well I shouldn’t  go into teenage sex — it’s sacred.  Let’s just say, I knew the place well.  It was my childhood parish.  “Over this way, Val.”

            “You’re a sick puppy.  You know that?”

            “That’s why you love me.”

            The back gate had another lock from the Dark Ages.  Once through that, we were up against the trees.  The ground climbed quickly.  The surprise was the fieldstone path.  I’d forgotten about it.  It snaked up, a series of switch backs, all the way to the top.  Masked by cliff clinging locust trees, the path was invisible from the street in front of St. Philomena’s.  The thin straight trunks of the trees also offered some protection from falling.  The drop-off at the edge of the path was extreme.  It came out in a little clearing about thirty-five yards north of the outlook.  We parted some wild lilac bushes, and pretty soon, there was the crime scene tape.  I knew Carl Vandy, and I knew our local constabulary.  They hadn’t gone any farther than this.  They didn’t know about the path.

            Vandy was plugged in.  He was locked in.  Mikey was the target.  He knew Mikey and Terri were connected.  He found out they talked that night.  He knew they argued.  He found something else.  He didn’t give a shit how Mikey dumped her.  He’d lean a little and find that out, no problem.  Mikey was now, officially, the nearest breathing body.

            “How big was she?”  Val was still working to get her breath after the climb.  Every once in awhile, when I’d been sober for a week or two, I’d nag her about smoking.  It never seemed to go over well.  Addicts get so sensitive.

            “You knew her, Val,  Maybe five foot two, about a hundred and five pounds.  Maybe less after all that meth.”

            “Well, tell you one thing.  Mikey the Stick, meth dealer, lazy bones, didn’t make that climb.”

            “So, who did?”  I was afraid of the answer.

            “That’s your job.  He’s your brother.  She was your friend.”

            “Why don’t I just tell Carl Vandy what we know?” I asked.

            “Oh yeah, that’ll work.  He loves you.  He’s just looking for an excuse to let Mikey regain his rightful place in polite society.  Get real.”

            I looked at the little hassock of grass by the lilac.  Terri had been right here last night.  I closed my eyes.  I wondered what choice she had been given on the Albino Farm.  I had a cold feeling that albinos were prowling.  And I swear to God, I heard them.  But the sound came from down below, in the city.  I turned slowly, and I saw Jesus.  I might still have been a little drunk.  Or maybe it was the moonlight through the clouds hitting St. Philomena’s stone tower just beyond us.  Looking out over the edge of the bluff, the garish cross came alive for a moment.  Jesus’ face wavered in a quick moving shadow and became Terri’s face.  She smiled.

            “Let’s head back.”  Valerie broke the vision.

            I had to remember how to breathe.  After a moment, Terri’s face faded, and Jesus returned to his pain on the steeple’s crucifix.  “Yeah.  Let’s go.”

            So we hit the fieldstone path.  Lit by the moon, speckled by the shadows of half-bare trees, I walked down it like a pallbearer.  I didn’t look up.  I was miserable.  Halfway down, one little glint in the leaves changed everything.

            Valerie was in front of me, so she didn’t see me pick it up.  I looked at it as we negotiated the descent.  It was a simple sterling icon on a thin silver chain, a Saint Christopher Medal.  The Protector of Travelers had spoiled this trip.

            I slipped it into my pocket.  I had another one just like it…around my neck.

            It was Mikey’s.


I get uncomfortable when people know too much about me.

It’s been a few months since they mopped up the blood and the other fluids that only coroners have polite names for.  Telling you what I did and why I did it probably won’t help me.  I think that whole “You’re only as sick as the secrets you keep” saying is as profound as a bug’s ass on a windshield.  When someone shares all their odious private garbage, it’s no more redemption than the sound of that insectoid splat on the glass is a song.

But I’m willing to make a deal.  I’ll pretend that I’m afraid all these memories are ripping at my soul — kind of like I hear some old man’s heart still beating under the manufactured, plastic-coated, simulated oak grain floor that they sell at Home Depot and the sound of it is driving me mad, and you try to keep up.

            Standing outside the police mausoleum, I was having way too many feelings.  Where to now?  I knew it was Monday.  I knew it was the first week of November.  A few ripped up Halloween decorations skittered down the street in the wind.  Holiday litter is always so festive.  The chill in the air matched my mood.  The low scudding Midwestern clouds racing south made it one of those days when there was only one place to go — Abe’s Bar.  I took the first step in that direction, then the second, and so on.  Just the process of knowing where I wanted to go helped.  Though it’s difficult, making the first alcohol-related choice of the day takes some of the pressure off.  I was building some momentum.

            Since I just couldn’t pick my feet up right, I shuffled the two or three blocks to the joint.  I thanked God for Abe’s one attraction; his eight a.m. opening time.  I pulled open the squeaky steel door and let the ambiance wash over me. 

            Advertising posters dating from when a Bush was Vice-President featured scantily-clad, over-inflated, nineteen-year-old chicks. The formerly glossy young things touted Captain Morgan or any number of Lite Beers.  All the skimpy Santa costumes, seductive Leprechauns, and bikini drill team babes covered one wall.  Abe doesn’t sell any of the proffered brands.  The posters were free, and they hide the gaps in the old plaster.  Abe is a pragmatic man.

            “Beer,”  I said, even before I made it to the barstool.  There was no time to waste, it was almost eight o’clock.

            “Got it,” said Abe.  He almost creaked when he stood up, and he drug his left foot like the Mummy moving towards the tap.  Abe was in rough shape.

            “How old are you, Abe?”

            He slid the beer, sloshing my way, across the bar.  “Fuck you.”

            Some people like noisy bars.  It’s easy to fit in where the decibels coat everybody like paint and make differences disappear.  Some people like friendly bars.  Like a sitcom where everybody knows your name, your business, your address.  Both kinds of places take too much energy.  I like Abe’s place.  At Abe’s, Cheers’ obese everyman, Norm, would not be greeted by a chorus.  He’d sit his fat ass down in stony, suspicious silence.

            Abe is the most sullen, unpleasant, unhappy person I have ever met, which makes him a natural for the hospitality industry.  His bar is in a bad location.  It’s dirty and dark.  The beer and booze are cut rate, and the place smells undefinably wrong.  The regulars are as surly as Abe, but for obvious reasons, there aren’t many of them.

            I didn’t respond to Abe’s cheerful repartee.  I inhaled the beer and slid the glass back towards the taps.  “Another.”

            Abe pulled me another.  The glass was a little on the dirty side.  Oh well, it’d be cleaner after I rinsed it out a couple more times.


            Abe slid me the third beer of the morning.  “You heard?” he asked.

            I tossed down number three. Sure enough, the sediment was gone.  The glass looked cleaner.  My head was clearer.  I returned the empty for a refill.

            “Did you ask me a question, Abe?  You never ask questions.  That’s why I like the place.”

Another saloon slide brought me beer number four. 

            “Just wanted to know if you heard about…”  His voice trailed off.

            “Yeah, I heard about Terri.”

            “You used to call her Terri the Head.”

            “Yeah.”  I could only sip the beer.  There was something in my throat.

            “Boy, she sure could give head.”  Abe said it like he was talking about a car salesman, or a plumber.  “Sold a lot of cars … He sure could fix a drain.”  It was a simple statement coming from Abe.  Like I said, he was a pragmatic man.  “You gave her that name, didn’t you?”

            “No, I didn’t.”

            “Sure you did.  I remember.  You hung around her all the time.  Then she started working for Mikey, and you were real drunk and started calling her Terri the Head.  Sure, you were sitting right where you are now.”

            “No, I didn’t.   Give me another beer.”

            “Have it your way.  But I remember.”  He gave me a refill.

            “I didn’t.”   I chugged the beer.  It was cold.  I wanted cold.  Abe was positively chatty today.  I didn’t like it much.

            “Terri was one woman I didn’t mind hanging around.  I even liked that poetry she used to read to you.  What was that stuff?”

            My throat tightened with the memory.  “It was Chaucer.”

            “Chaw Seer?”  Abe came close.  “How’d that one thing go she used to recite when you came in the door?”

            I put down the glass.  A little booze goes well with poetry.  I could see Terri’s face.  I could hear her greeting me as I entered Abe’s. 

            She would look up from whatever table she was at, no matter who was with her, and say, “The hindmost of our group.  The Summoner is here with us in this place!”  Her stage voice and her big dramatic gestures were all so clear in my memory.  “He has a flushed red cherub’s face.”   She would stand and approach me.  “Pimpled with desire and his hips so narrow.  Hell’s hot he is, and lecherous as a sparrow.”

            “Yeah that was it,” said Abe.  Jesus, I’d recited it out loud.  “Then you’d say something back.”

            “I must eschew your company. For that is my remedy against my lechery.”

            “Is all that Chaw Seer?”

            “Canterbury Tales.”  I slid the glass back to Abe.  I had lost count.  That was a good sign.

            “She was pretty smart.  Shame.”

            “A shame.”  My hand intercepted the next beer way before it reached me.  I was in a hurry.  I wasn’t drunk enough.

            “She did a job with you once, didn’t she?  Blew a security guard while you popped a safe? That’s right ain’t it?”

            Abe had a better memory than I had ever expected.  He was right.  The job was a simple one, and Terri had taken the guy on while I was in the next office doing my professional thing.   I could hear him as he got happier.  The pimply-faced jerk didn’t deserve it, and I have to admit I was just a bit jealous.  Damn, he was stupid.  The guy runs into a beautiful woman and thinks she just can’t help herself.  She has to suck him off or she’ll die.  He must be irresistible.  What a schlemiel.  Val taught me that word.

            Most men are morons like that. I’m not. The problem was, Terri was so fast at getting guys off, I almost didn’t have time to close the safe and neaten up.  Because after about ninety seconds, he made the dumbest orgasm sound I’ve ever heard.  It sounded like a mule colliding with a fart. Terri started to laugh. She laughed right in his… er.. face.  While in the nearby office I desperately covered my mouth and almost lost it.  It was live TV sketch comedy.  Terri giggling and me shaking with my inner clown. It was just like Harvey Korman and Tim Conway.  The skit was out of control.

            “Yeah, that’s right, Abe.”  That was the night I gave her that Terri the Head tag.   She even laughed.  We became friends, and that surprised me.  Pals or not, I was always on my guard around her. I instinctively knew that, for me, she had to remain out of reach. Sexual power like that would have eaten me alive.   Every man knows a woman like Terri.  I was smart enough to keep it platonic; most men wouldn’t have.

            She knew Chaucer — great stuff; sex, violence, and as many fart jokes as a Jim Carey movie.  She read Ken Kesey, too.  But that was early on before the drugs ate her up.

            “I hear they’re looking for Mikey,” said Abe.

            That didn’t surprise me.  Terri had one of her sweet misguided deals with Mikey.  The bargain was standard in the industry.  If she sold a lot of dope and screwed the distributor, Mikey,  and his friends on demand, she could keep a little for herself — that kind of deal.  She sold to some state legislator’s kid.   That was big trouble for her. Val became her lawyer.  That was big trouble for me.

            Defendant Terri told Lawyer Val everything.  She was naturally honest, which is very unusual for a coke head.  So somewhere in the story, she told Val how she had helped me on that job.  Like I said; trouble for me.

            Eventually, Terri had to fuck for money.  Things took longer and didn’t pay as well.    Once, some judge sent her to rehab.  I was there at the same time.  We skipped out together, split up on the sidewalk in front of the treatment center, and, as they say, “relapsed” the same night.  I don’t like the word “relapsed.”  As far as I was concerned, I’d never “lapsed” yet.  I still haven’t.  But I don’t do drugs any more.  I stick to God’s natural way out; liquor.

            Jeez, it was noon already.  I could tell because the  Channel Six Lunch Bunch show was on the greenish-tinted screen of the color TV over the bar.  No big screen at Abe’s.  There was Liz Nice again.  After ten beers, it took awhile for my ears to focus.

            “…The autopsy has concluded that Theresa Header died of a broken neck.  The victim of a brutal sexual assault was then dumped at the Old Roman Road location by her assailant.  Fear is spreading among the other prostitutes of the seedy south side.”

            The picture cut to a woman with the bluest eye shadow I’ve ever seen.  She looked like some unholy cartoon character.  Maybe it was the bad color adjustment of the old set or maybe it was the beer, but it was like a 3-D effect.  Her eyes telescoped out of the picture tube like something from the director’s cut of “House of Wax.”  When she spoke, I recognized her.

            “I’m afraid to leave my house.  She’s not the first to die, let me tell ya, sweetie, there have been others.  I’ve told the cops but they don’t listen.  There’s evil loose in the streets.  Honey, the beast is loose.”

            Nikki…what was her last name?  Nikki…Hell, it didn’t matter what her last name was.  I knew her.  Oh yeah, Nikki DiBelbis…Nikki “the Pelvis” DiBelbis,  the totally psycho, half the time in five point restraint under state supervision, half the time waving a Bible around under your nose, Nikki DiBelbis with the blue eyes.  She was kind of a “working girl.”  She tried to sell it from time to time, but the word was out.  “The chick is fuckin’ crazy!”  Nobody would go near her, except for the occasional drunk out-of-towner.  She was afraid to leave her house?  She lived in a Tuff Shed with some lawn mowers.  There have been others?  Hey, “the Pelvis” lived in a world of “others,” and they weren’t from this planet.  Liz had gotten a great sound bite.  The beast is loose?  It was great stuff.  It was imaginative fiction.  It was a real grabber. But then so was “The Lord of the Rings.”

            “…Tirawa police continue their hunt for ‘the Beast.’  Our illusion of safety shattered…until the day is night and night becomes the day, until the trees and sea just up and fly away….until the day…”  Wait a minute, that was Stevie Wonder flying through my head.  Jesus,  Liz Nice’s fantasy had morphed into music.  She was a fucking genius, and my mind was slipping again.  The Beast was loose.  The buzz had slipped over to smashed.  Ten beers?  Twenty?  God, “Wheel of Fortune” was on.  Vanna White looked like Nikki DiBelbis.  I got here around 7:45 a.m.  It must be 2:00 or 3:00 in the p.m.  I’ve been here more than six hours.  There’s only, let me see, thirty-four, five dollars and, fuck dropped a quarter, eighty-two cents in my pocket.  Did I have a hundred this morning?  Man, I musta’ had twenty, twenty-five beers.  “…Until the day that you are me and I am you.”

            “Abe, coffee!”  You know, now that I look back, I think Abe was reading a week-old newspaper.  These are the kinds of details I observe — frequently, without actually noticing until much later.

            That was the problem.  I hadn’t had my coffee this morning.  Valerie always screwed me up. You see, when I drink, the goal is not oblivion.  The goal is “the buzz.”  Like we said in the seminary, “Ut in Omnes moderato est.”  All things in moderation, or something like that.  My Latin was starting to dissolve.

            Abe’s coffee was beyond horrible.  It was perfect.  Try some if you ever get a chance.  Starbucks should sell his blend.  One sip, and your adrenal glands kick in the fight or flight response.  The saber tooth is nearby.  Survival juices flow.  Knock down a couple cups, and you could make it to the tree in time.  I was climbing to safety when Mikey came in.

            Mikey was a piece of work.  He used to be a coke dealer, but he had seen the light and reformed a couple years ago.  Now he sold meth.  He could make it himself.  The profit margin was better, and you didn’t have to deal with any friggin’ Colombians.  People on the coasts think we’re slow here in the Midwest.  Despite their elitist, fly-over mentality, we are the real innovators.  Meth is our latest stroke of genius.  Why import psychosis when we can cheaply manufacture our own homegrown, pure American, salute-the-flag variety?  It was a huge step forward in decreasing our dependence on foreign drugs.  Speed just like grandma used to make.  Cooling in the kitchen window with that distinctive fresh-baked brain aroma.  Meth was Terri’s last stop on the needle.

            Mikey looked like Roy Orbison after a nine month speed spree.  Greasy black, Grecian Formula Ronald Reagan-colored hair, garden-raked across a bald head, capped a steroid-swollen face with a pulpy nose and a weak chin, gave him that All-American charm. All that, and his speed-induced concentration camp figure made him a visual treat.  He wore his usual tight jeans and an Old Navy rugby shirt.  Mikey was always trendy, even when the trend wasn’t meant for him.  He reminded me of the old guy I saw once wearing a Bare Naked Ladies tour “T” tucked into his Sans-a-belt slacks.  I really didn’t like Mikey, and for lots of reasons beyond his fashion sense.

            Mikey was out of breath.  “Thought I’d find you here.”

            I held the shit-brown stained cup up in Abe’s direction.  “So it looks like you’ve tracked me down,  Holmes.  But I won’t go peacefully.”  My instinctive sharp wit was coming back.  The buzz was within sight.

            “Can the crap, I don’t have time.”  Mikey looked sincerely concerned — sincerely concerned about himself.  I knew he should be concerned.  You see,  I felt it in my soul…Mikey was “the Beast.”

             “You remember last night?”

            That was always a tricky question when you were talking to me.   Like I said, I always remember.  I don’t have blackouts, just blur outs.  But I wasn’t that blurry Sunday night.  True, I had misplaced the fact that it was Sunday, but whenever I see Terri things sort of clear up.  I saw Terri last night night.  That’s what I was going to tell Detective Vandy about.  That’s where the extra guilt load came from.  I saw Terri the night she was murdered.  But I didn’t talk to her.  I didn’t do anything.

I saw Terri talking to Mikey.  I saw the look in Terri’s eyes.  They were real eyes again —  not like they were in that photo on Vandy’s desk.  She was straight, almost beautiful again.  She was crying, and Mikey was mad.  I saw them talking.  Mikey saw me, too.

            “You remember last night?

            “Yeah, Mikey, I remember.”  It’s a rule.  Never volunteer information.  Respond precisely, never elaborate.

            “You saw me with Terri the Head?  You know she’s dead?”  When he rhymed it like that, I started to get angry.

            “Yeah, I saw you, Mikey.”  I enunciated the syllables of “Mikey” to warn him.

            “She had a problem…”

            “You were one.”

            “Listen…she had a problem.  She knew something.  She needed some help.  She asked me for help.”  He almost sounded like he wanted me to believe him.

            “So you gave her some?”  I wasn’t being very empathic.  Valerie says that’s one of my character defects.

            “It was something I didn’t want to get involved with.  I wanted to help her but…”

            “Sure, Mikey.  So where’d you take her when you left?”

            “Listen, I’ll tell you the whole deal, but you got to get me in touch with your girlfriend.  I need to talk to a lawyer.”  Mikey was looking a little sweaty.  It didn’t improve his image or my sense of compassion.

            “You want to see Valerie?”  The conversation was about to end.

            A car, then two, then three screeched up outside.  You could see the flashing blue and red through the milky-white window.  Mikey’s eyes widened.  He jumped down the dark hall towards the Men’s Room.  There was a storage room back there, too.  It was full of empty kegs, empty Cheetos boxes, empty crates, empty bottles, empty cans, and five empty boxes labeled “Empties.”  For a junk-crammed room it was pretty empty.  It was dark and reeked of Abe’s.  Mikey probably felt right at home.

            That’s when Carl Vandy took over the place.  You knew he’d be coming through the door, didn’t you?  Anybody coulda’ seen that coming.  Vandy didn’t hurry in.  Listen,  when Vandy is there, Vandy is there.  When he walks towards you, you feel like a rookie quarterback alone on the field with Ray Lewis.  A certain amount of apprehension rises in your esophagus.  At that point, there aren’t enough Tropical Fruit Flavored Tums in the world to help you.

            “Well, my friend…”  It was real trouble when he referred to you as his friend.  “Well, my friend, there goes your thirty-day chip.”  Just like Vandy to blow my anonymity.

            “Just having a cup of Abe’s fine Colombian.  Wish we had a Starbucks in the neighborhood, but until then…”  I did a little fatalistic shrug.  I sure hoped I wasn’t going too far.  Vandy could be a really tough audience.

            He  reached over me to the bar.  He picked up my cup.  He moved it just out of my reach and set it down again deliberately, so as not to spill a drop.  It was a meaningful little gesture.  It was time to have a little talk.

            “Have you been sober enough to hear that Theresa Header was murdered?  She was your friend, wasn’t she?”

            When he put it like that, I started to feel it for the first time.  My eyes started to fill up.  Swear to God, I had a lump in my throat.  She was my friend.  I didn’t want to feel what I started to feel.  That’s why I was here at Abe’s, right?  That crazy therapist I saw once would tell you that.  But it would just be psycho-babble.  I’d be here if my shoelace broke.  It just so happened that Terri was dead.

            I was almost numb again…almost.  “Yeah, Vandy, she was my friend.”

            “I understand you stopped by my office earlier today.  Have something to tell me, Tools?  Know anything about it?”  Simple questions with so many implications.  He leaned towards me.  Vandy’s good at leaning.

            So I broke my rule.

            “Mikey’s in the back.”  You understand the pressure I was under.

            Vandy waved at Junior Detective Valasquez by the door.  I hadn’t even noticed him.  Vandy had demanded my complete attention. He pointed down the hall.  In a minute or two Mikey emerged — under escort — in cuffs, of course.

            The Beast was in custody.  The case was solved.

            You’re thinking to yourself, “Wait a minute!  What a fucking scam!  This slime ball promises me the whole story.  We got a dead girl, a crazy cop, the vague suggestion of exciting blood-drenched adventures to come, and now it’s over quicker than one of Terri’s blow jobs?”  If you’re a Puritan, excuse me for that crude sexual metaphor, but you get the idea.  Go with me on this.  You know in your gut, “This can’t be right.”

            And, guess what?  It ain’t right, but it is what happened.  Sit back.  Remember that it’s always darkest just before the gasoline catches fire.  I’ll buy another round.

            There’s a lot more to tell.


I feel guilty most of the time.

            Val tells me that it’s just normal Catholic guilt.  That’s kind of ironic, isn’t it?  I mean, Catholic guilt?  When you consider the unfortunate events in the church, the poison at the Bishop’s party, all the dead priests, and my part in the whole mess, nobody should be surprised.  When the obscene facts about what they did to the little kid came out, all the demons were loose.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

            The morning after they found Terri, while I stumbled down the street away from Val’s — my pal, my normal background guilt was running a little high.  I was thinking about Terri.  I was thinking that she was under that tarp because of me.

            Now guilt is a funny thing.  It makes some people change their ways.  It makes some drown themselves in whatever ill-advised behavior that provoked the shame in the first place.  The burden makes others consume mass quantities of sugary carbohydrates.  As for me – I threw up.  Then I stole a bicycle.

            Fact is, I almost threw up on the bicycle.  But God was sending me a message.  “Don’t throw up on the bicycle,” he said.  So I didn’t, though a bit may have splashed on the skinny rear tire.  Then he went on, “Instead, verily I say unto you, take this conveyence that I have provided and go do the right thing.  This is my command to you.”  God talks funny, especially if you’ve got a hangover.

            The bike was secured by a chain to a downspout in an alley.  The device was one of those three-number, turning-cog locks.  Since I knew the universal combination that works on every single one of these “security” devices, I was pedaling down Bonnie Parker Boulevard like a madman within thirty seconds.  God doesn’t like people procrastinating, just ask Jonah.

            I was heading downtown to turn state’s evidence.  I was going to be a snitch, a tattletale, a stool pigeon – worse, I was going to try to be a saint.  I was about to betray my own professional code.  It’s a simple matter of honor with me.  I never give the cops any information, ever.  Unless  there’s something in it for me.  Now I was about to do something altruistic, all because of a dead woman and, of course, the voice of Jehovah in my ear.  That’s what happens when you drink stale beer.

            Spiro Agnew Police Headquarters is right across the Stinky Creek Bridge.  The first settlers in Tirawa gave the stagnant stream that olfactory name because the overgrown ditch was apparently where all the crawdads in the watershed were compelled by some nonsensical instinct to crawl off and die.  The legend is that the noxious odor of five million rotting crayfish even drove off mosquitos.  That’s where the new settlement took hold.  By building the town on that site, the always practical pioneers were able to avoid malaria, yellow fever, and other such blood-sucker born diseases.  Instead, the white invaders were ocassionally culled by cholera, dysentery, and various virulent forms of excema.  Now-a-days the creek just smells like garbage.  America is losing its heritage one stink at a time.  Shame.

            HQ looks like any other police building – in North Korea.  A dirty-gray concrete cliff, punctuated with black glass windows, the place only lacks a five-story tall picture of “Dear Leader” to complete the impression.  If the big steel garage doors sunken under the mausoleum-like entry porch were to open and issue forth a caravan of “firetrucks” off to burn books ala Ray Bradbury, you would not be surprised.  Fact is, when I hopped off the bike and re-locked the chain around a scraggly locust tree in the HQ “Plaza,” I noticed a chubby guy with snow white hair and a red nose sucking on a bottle of dandelion wine.  I didn’t have time to ask his name.

            I hustled straight in the front door and walked quickly to the row of elevators at the far end of the echo-filled lobby.  Security was at a high level.  I could tell because the gap-toothed skinny guy behind the big desk by the metal detectors kept yelling at me, “Hey, you’ve got to sign in.  You’ve got to sign in.  You’ve got to…”  The elevator door closed, so I missed the rest of what he might have added.

            Detective Vandy’s office was on the fifth floor.  It was at the end of a long, green-tiled hall.  I remember that my shoes squeaked all the way to his door — almost all the way.  A very attractive armed woman stopped me about fifteen feet short.

            “Tools, what the hell are you doing here?”

            “Officer Moore, so good to see you.  Think it’ll rain?”

            “Shut the fuck up.”  Sgt. Jasmine Moore had the sexiest voice.

            “Yes, M’am.”  I love strong women.  The way she adjusted her bullet-proof vest under her tight blue uniform blouse made me blush.  Or maybe I was just out of shape.  I’d sprint-pedaled the bike twenty blocks and run through a lobby after all.

            “Well?  Answer me.  What are you doing here?”

            “I took my eyes off her chest, looked into her big brown eyes and smiled.

            “Answer me.”

            “You told me to shut the fuck up.”

            “Smart ass.”

            “I gotta talk to Vandy.”

            “Yeah?”  Jasmine gave me a funny look.  “Gotta’ hot tip?”

            “You still pissed off, Jazz?”

            “Don’t call me Jazz.  And, yes, you bet your pale ass I’m pissed.  You put me on to the punks that were ripping off cars in the north lot at the stadium.”

            “No need to thank me.”

            “Thank you?  I’m bustin’ them and you work the south lot.  You are a piece of work.”

            “Don’t mention it.  Is Vandy in?”

            “Wait your turn.  He’s got a lot of people in line ahead of you.”

            At that point there was a bellow.  It sounded like somebody had the Animal Planet channel on the TV and turned the volume up way too loud.  A rhino collided with a Land Rover full of obese tuba players.

            I turned away from the gorgeous Sgt. Jasmine and looked through the big glass wall that separated the detective’s office from the common room.  Vandy’s feet were sticking straight up in the air.

            Detective Vandy’s day was off to a bad start.  Besides a murder, a headache, and an iffy pancreas, his desk chair was broken again.  His door was half open.  I could hear every scatological word that sputtered out of his mouth.  I moved off to  the side and tried to be unobtrusive.  It’s a talent I have.

            “God dammit, Emilio!”  Vandy had been leaning back when the stem of the chair snapped.  Now he was a polyester pile in the corner of his cramped office.  “Emilio!”

            Valasquez rushed in from his desk and extricated his boss from the tangled wreckage.  “You O.K., sir?”

            Vandy kicked the amputated seat into the file cabinet.  The metallic bass drum sound echoed down the hall.  “Get me a fucking chair that’s made for a normal human being instead of some anorexic teenage intern!”

            Valasquez looked at Vandy’s gut.  I figured that he was using the moment to compute the weight and stresses involved.  He smiled, and then saved his career.  “You’re right Vandy, these chairs are shit.  I’ll get supply to send up a solid wooden one.”

            “Goddamn plastic shit!”  Vandy poked at the upside down broken tripod.  He kicked it, and it spun around and hit him in the shin.  “Motherfuckin’ ….”

            Valasquez looked like he was afraid that more furniture could get hurt.  “Here’s the file on Header, Boss.”

            Now, I know Carl Vandy.  I’ve dealt with Vandy.  He’s arrested me at least four times.  He’s always been fair.  He’s a pro.   I’ve even — and I know I’m not supposed to say this, but I want the record to be complete — run into Vandy at an AA meeting or two.  Don’t panic, I’m not a member.

            Rich or poor, saintly or sleazy, once the deceased became his case, they were family.  Almost all of Vandy’s cases were basically simple.  Most murder is.  Simple, that is.  When you find a dead body, arrest the live body that’s closest.  Ninety-eight percent of the time you’d be right.  Then just lean on ‘em.  Vandy was good at leaning.  The problem here was there was no other breathing body in sight.  That’s when a detective has to be really smart.  Vandy’s necrotic gall bladder was twitching.  I could see the pangs register on his face.  He opened the file folder and spread the crime scene photos out on his desk.

            “What’s your take, Vandy?”  Emilio Valasquez was new.  He was on his second week, his first murder case, and still alive, so he wasn’t family yet.

            “My take?”  Vandy smiled, always a bad sign.  “My take? About thirty-two hundred a month, you friggin’ idiot.”

            Emilio must have known it was an endearment, because he let the insult slide.  Vandy just stared down at the photos.

            I didn’t want to look but I couldn’t help myself.  From my angle the perspective was off, but I could see the pictures.  The one on top of the stack was clinical.  That’s the police photography style.  It still ripped my heart out.

            Terri’s left leg, with the bare foot, was pointed uphill towards the outlook.  Her right leg was bent back.  Her right foot was still wearing a white anklet sock and a generic white tennis shoe.  Her plain black skirt was pushed up. There was a hint of red blood on the inside of her left thigh.  I could see her right breast.  Her simple white blouse was torn.  Because of the slant of the body, the breast sagged up towards the shoulder.  She had that both-eyes-open death stare.

            Emilio broke Vandy’s reverie.  “As to that idea you had, you were right.”

            Vandy leaned on the desk with one hand and rubbed his shin with the other.  “Of course I’m right.  Put a call in to the Palomino.  Five’ll get you a taco somebody knows something over there.”

            Valasquez let the lapse in Political Correctness go right by.  “By the way, Officer Redlands is outside.”

            When Valasquez said the name, I flashed on the rosary and the crazy-eyed cop I’d seen on TV.  I turned and saw James Redlands in person for the first time.  All six-foot forever of him.  Jasmine Moore was giving him her evil eye.  Jasmine was his supervisor.  Shit was about to hit the fan.  I was glad no one was taking any notice of me.  And I was glad I had some thick glass between me and the confrontation I knew was coming.

            Vandy rubbed his shin again.  “I’m in the perfect mood.  Send him in.”  He hunched over the desk, both fists set firmly on the blotter, his linebacker face looking down at the open file in front of him.  The military cadence of James Redland’s shiny black Oxfords announced his presence.

            “Sir, you wanted to see me, sir?” 

            Thank God he didn’t click his heels like a Prussian. Vandy would have buggered him with his own swagger stick.  “Officer Redlands.”  Vandy’s eyes looked up under his brows at the spit and polish irritation in blue standing in front of his desk at attention.

            “Yes, sir!”

            “I notice you polished your shoes today.”

            “Everyday, sir.”  Redlands announced it proudly.

            “Did you get all the piss off?”

            “Pardon, sir?”  This cop was not quick on the pickup.

            “All the piss you got on your shoes by walking through that fucking piss puddle at the crime scene last night.”  Vandy was leaning across the desk now.  All his weight was on his clenched fists.

            “Piss, sir?”  Redlands was still about two beats behind the band.

            “And if I ever see you fucking around with a rosary at one of my crimes again, Redlands, I’ll mail your liver to the Pope so he can enjoy his onions and chianti!” 

            “Sir, I don’t think…”

            “And, while we’re at it.  What in the name of the Bishop’s dick were you doing up on the Albino Farm when you were off-duty last week?  You go up there a lot?”

            Redlands could only sputter.  “The Bishop…?”

            “I know how you bushwhack kids up there, Redlands.  I’ve seen the reports.  I got a pile of reports on you, Redlands.  Preaching to half-naked teenagers is just the top of the stack.  You like beating up winos, Redlands?  You got disputes with other officers?  You got problems?  I’m watching, Officer Redlands.  I’m just waiting for you to crack.”

            “Sir, I only…”

            “You get your rocks off up there catching those wayward youth, don’t you?”  Vandy had him well off-balance at that point.

            Redlands’ face changed at that point.  There was something there.  “I resent your language and your insinuations.”

            “You’re lucky I got another twisted soul down for this little piece of work.”   Vandy  pointed at the photos.

            “Sir, I…”

            “Get the fuck out of here!”  Vandy looked down at the file.

            “She was a whore, sir.”  Redlands had not reacted to Vandy’s gentle suggestion that he leave.

            “She was a whore?”  Vandy’s voice was quiet.

            “She needed my prayers, sir.”  Redlands stepped towards the desk.  He had obviously interpreted Vandy’s quiet tone as an invitation to be evangelized.  He was wrong.

            Emilio Valasquez had saved his own career earlier by ignoring Vandy’s corpulence.  Now he saved Redlands’ life by stepping in the room and between the two men.  “Boss, I made a call.  Got a witness over at the Palomino Club.  That’ll be all, Officer Redlands.”  He half pushed the patrolman out the door.  “Grab your coat, Boss.  I’ll get the car.”

            Vandy was chewing on a thought.  He straightened up and reached for his jacket.  It was crumpled in the corner, still on the back of the broken chair.  I remember thinking that the dead girl in the photos looked crumpled, too.

            I just stepped back further into the corner and watched them leave.  The big detective didn’t notice me as he stalked away down the hall.  His shoes squeaked, too.  Vandy was onto the Palamino connection.  I was suddenly getting the feeling that more was going on here than I’d first thought.  Maybe I didn’t have anything to tell the detective.  Maybe there was another, better cure for my guilt.

            I needed a drink.


I never expected to kill any of those people.

I never wanted to be a murderer. A simple life as an honest thief was all I wanted. That whole week was totally unexpected. I had plans, none of which included homicide. I had a hangover. I had eyelids stuck shut like Post-It notes. And early on that particular Monday, I had a really interesting girlfriend.

Her name is Valerie, Val when I’m too lazy or too drunk for three syllables. She has some childhood issues, a law degree, freckles in the right places, and a really uncomfortable sofa. It was six inches shorter than me, but a guy’s got to pass out somewhere.

Anyway, that morning, I fully intended to sleep in. Had I known what had happened the night before and what the days to come would bring, I would have never opened my eyes. Hell, I would have gouged my baby blues out like Oedipus. I would have ripped out my left kidney and eaten it right there. But I didn’t know — yet.

At that point, and for another five minutes, it was just another morning, and I hate mornings. My professional hours are, shall we say, irregular. I’d been up into the early hours working, picking up an item or two from the odd “over-equipped” car, and maybe ingesting a few of the finer distilled spirits sold by the courteous Kevlar-vested package store clerks of the neighborhood.

But I was at Val’s place, and Val is a morning person. As usual, she was making a God awful racket. Women are so damn loud in the morning. Especially if the inside of your head already feels like an empty beer keg full of psychotic hamsters.

Val’s God damn blow drier, the banshee, was emitting a high-pitched whine that I could feel more than hear. The jelly inside my eyeballs was crystallizing, sending sharp spikes into my brain.

My head hurt. My eyeballs hurt. My fingernails screamed. Val’s hair would never dry. A thousand cats in heat were screaming at me from the bathroom.

I pulled the drool-covered couch pillow over my head. The sound waves stabbed like a red hot sonic poker through the soles of my feet where they stuck out from under the stretched green Afghan.

Val had a bad childhood. I had a bad childhood. So what? Bad parenting, despite what all the snappy paperback advice books tell you, is good for developing ambitious expansionist civilizations. Besides, you need dysfunctional people to invent something as usefully sadistic as the modern blow dryer. In this case, Val’s hand held a maladjusted five horsepower jet engine.

The blower’s whine was like an approaching tsunami.

“Get up, Marty. You can’t stay here after I go into the office,” Val shouted.

“What?” I shouted back.

“Hey, I don’t have time for this. We are buried at the office, I have to be in early. I don’t know why I let you in last night.”

“Let me stay. I’ll lock up when I leave.” I used my best “sick little boy” voice. It was a little shot of audio Pavlovian stimulation.

“Get your ass up.” There was no Pavlovian response today. She is always less vulnerable in the morning.

“Got any coffee?” No response. When in doubt, turn on the tube. I reached up from the couch and grabbed the remote. I maxed out the volume to compete with the roar from the bathroom.

“Turn it down,” she screamed. “Make your own fucking coffee.”

“There’s never been a better time to buy a Chevy truck.” The loudest announcer I’ve ever heard was blasting out of the TV, shaking my mostly empty beer cans off the coffee table.

“Let me stay, Val. In the name of suffering humanity.” My volume geometrically increased with each word I shouted. Thus, my last word,

“Humanity!” was infinitely louder than the commercial’s climactic, “Truck!” It was inhumane.

“Better hurry! This sale won’t last forever!”

“Turn that down, idiot.” Sound was layered on sound. My skull started to crack.

A muffled, “Hey, hold it down.” And pounding from the wall started in. The rhythm section was joining in from next door. “Boom! Boom!” A bass drum from the ceiling kicked it up a notch. We were Archie Bell and the Drells in Hell.

I hit the mute. Val clicked off the blow dryer. All the cacophony halted suddenly and simultaneously. The silence hit me as if I had just shot up to the surface of the ocean from a hundred fifty feet down. Bubbles formed in my blood stream.

Val emerged from the bathroom. She looked at me like I was lint. “Marty, It’s seven. I’ve got to be at work by eight. Get up. Take a quick shower ‘cause you smell. Try not to look like a carny worker when you leave.”
Taking my life in my hands, I went for the win. “Can you make some coffee, some of that fou-fou stuff?”

There was a pause. Her eyes gave up. “Just get up. God, if only you’d stayed in the seminary. Womankind would have been spared.”

That’s when I noticed Liz Nice on the screen. Liz was a local “news personality” who specialized in happy chatter and mayhem. She stood near a wooded area and looked directly into the rising sun. She kind of squinted, and it exaggerated the asymmetrical placement of her overly large eyes. Well, her right eye was overly large, the other was smallish and stuck in too low like a kid’s first shot at Mr. Potato Head. Val’s old TV distorted the colors. Liz had an almost orange John Kerry tan. I adjusted the volume to a reasonable level.

“…The shocking discovery was made by an off-duty police officer, James Redlands, on this lonely hill, a Lover’s Lane known locally as the Albino Farm. The path to passion now the scene of a crime of passion?” I loved the alliteration, the weak irony, and the big question mark ending. I was mildly amused.

“… The Channel Six Crime Patrol was first on the scene.” Was she smiling?
The camera pulled back to reveal a blocky football-type in a Tirawa police uniform standing next to Ms. Nice. “…Officer Redlands, what did you discover when you arrived here late Sunday night?”

Television supplies me with so much important information. Now I knew it was Monday.

Redlands grabbed the mike. “On arriving at the scene, I observed the partially nude body of a female. The suspicion of foul play was evident considering the location, condition of the body, and the type of victim.” What the hell did that mean, “type of victim?” Then I noticed, wrapped around the policeman’s fingers, a rosary. I suppose a gang tatoo on his knuckles might have seemed more out of place, but just barely.

“What did you do then, Officer Redlands?” She was almost breathless. Kinky.

“I informed HQ on my cell phone, put up the crime scene tape and…”

“And then what, Officer?”

“Well, Liz, I said a prayer or two.”

The flushed face of the reporter turned away quickly, and the camera zoomed in for a close up. “To protect, serve, and say a prayer. Our Tirawa city police helping even the most lost of souls. So, with those prayers, a low-life ends on a high hill…” At that point I wanted to throw a beer can through the screen, but there was a little warm flat PBR left, and I chugged it instead.

Liz went on, “Her name has been leaked to this reporter by a source who hopes the information may help speed the investigation of this horrific crime.” Was Redlands smiling in the background? “The victim of a brutal sexual assault, the body of a young woman has now been transported to the coroner’s office. Police will not release the name of the victim at this time pending identification and notification of next of kin, but this reporter has learned that the woman is known as “the Head” on the streets of the seedy Vaporville section, and authorities hope to make a final identification soon. Meanwhile, Detective Carl Vandy….”

“Fuuuuucckkk,” long and drawn out, emerged from my cottony mouth.

“What’s that?” Valerie’s voice from the kitchen had a slight hint of her original hostility. She probably thought I was going to start in again.

“My fucking Lord, come here, Valerie. It’s fucking Terri! Terri’s fucking dead. Oh, fuck!” That’s a verbatim quote.

The shot cut from Liz’s thin-lipped inappropriate smile to a prerecorded loop of the crime scene. Crime tape surrounded the top of a little overgrown ridge. I could see Redlands fingering his rosary. And an overweight detective was looking down where an soiled tarp covered something. A pathetic naked foot was momentarily visible as the camera did its cruel pan.

“…According to confidential sources, the victim is well-known to local police for involvement in drugs and prostitution. Investigators are running down several good leads and many believe an arrest is imminent. So a town that has awakened to fear this morning hopes and prays that this savage threat will be removed from our streets before he strikes again. This is Liz Nice for the Channel Six Crime Patrol.” The morning wind was brisk. The branches of the trees behind her swayed. Her hair didn’t move.

“Christ, Terri the Head is dead.” The rhyme clunked on the floor.

Val slapped the back of my head, hard. “Don’t call her that, you sleaze ball. My God, Marty, show a little respect for once. She had straightened out. Crap! She was turning things around. You weren’t? …were you?…did you?”
“I haven’t seen her for, jeez, six months, Val, I swear. Maybe it’s been eight. I stopped going to, or, in the Palomino at least a year ago?” I was lying. She knew it. She was going to let me babble on. Valerie was a good lawyer. There was only one safe tactic.

“How could you even think such a thing?” As soon as I said it I knew I had picked the wrong question. Ours was a relationship made in “Doctor Phil Show” heaven, and we were headed for Jerry Springer hell..

“Just get out.” She didn’t yell. It was time to go.

When she got quiet like this, it was stupid to say anything. I pulled on my old tennies, grabbed my Cubs jacket, and without any eye contact, got up slowly. Like being in a cage with a mama she-wolf, I moved deliberately, nothing sudden. Trying to be invisible, I opened the door and let myself out.

I closed it silently behind me, stepped into the wind, and finally took a breath.

Terri was dead. My gut rumbled and my brain twitched. Terri was dead. What did I feel? I felt like I needed a drink.

The November wind hit me in the face. I took a step and almost fell flat on my face.

“Shit!” Seems to me, I just thought that. Or maybe I said it out loud.
Martin Luther Hutchence was back in his natural element, the street.

You can call me Marty. But my associates call me “Tools.”



I’m a really smart guy.

I got my High School diploma from a half-seminary, half rich-kids-in-trouble boarding school, run by Benedictine monks who liked fist fights as much as Gregorian Chants. I went to college. One semester I signed up for 19 credit hours. Then I proceeded straight to the airport, flew to San Francisco, drank, smoked, dropped, made love not war, and sold oregano in sandwich bags to tourists for air fare home. I took my finals and got a 3.4 GPA without ever attending an actual class. Got into law school without a degree because I killed the entrance exam. Lost interest. Quit after six weeks.

I’m a really smart guy, but I always lose interest.

Speaking of losing interest, this isn’t how these kind of things are supposed to start. There’s supposed to be a body, isn’t there? The preference is for a female body. This is the spot for what they call in the movies, the money shot. Hey, I’m a slave to convention. So that’s how I’ll start.

There was a dead girl sprawled across a little hump of matted down prairie grass up on a hill overlooking the city of Tirawa.

Of course that doesn’t go far enough, does it? The girl is supposed to be naked. I’ve seen a lot of those committee-written slasher flicks, and there’s always some artful lighting or milky white skin. The nubile corpse is posed provocatively with all the naughty bits exposed. In the “R” rated scripts, words like “cadaver” are replaced by flashier nouns like “vixen.” Stains and fluids are described in the verbal haze of a soft-core porn air-brush. There’s a sexual excitement to the discovery that strikes me as odd as a fishstick swimming upstream.

There’s no denying that one of the girl’s tits was exposed. Maybe her pubic area was visible because of the way her plain black skirt had been pushed up around her waist. I really don’t want to think about that. See, I knew her when she was alive and beautiful. There’s nothing beautiful about death in the real world. Bent back over that hump of ground she was ugly. Her skin wasn’t milky white, it was the color of a grub worm. I can’t see any prurient aspect to the scene so I won’t make any of that perverted stuff up.

When the teenage boy walked over to the bare-branched lilac bush that bent over the body, he didn’t expect anything except a good strong satisfying piss. He unzipped, tugged out his penis and peed. A natural thing for a boy to do. One thing all guys do when they piss outdoors is look all around them, scanning all quadrants. It’s primitive nature living on in our modern brains. See, that’s when the predators get us primates, when we’re drinking at the water hole or pausing to piss on the veldt. One second we’re shaking our dick, the next a saber tooth tiger is daintily supping on our intestines. So the kid looked around instinctively, and the first thing he saw was her bare foot glowing in the shadows of the lilac.

The kid froze. He pissed on his own shoe. He ran the waxy cold image through his brain. The pubescent nuerons fired back an interpretation. “Dead.” The concept popped up in his consciousness. “Dead” communicates well across a distance. He didn’t need to examine the body. He never touched her. His dick dripped. He stood there with a blank screen for a face. Trapped in a programming loop. “Dead… Dead… Dead…”   The smell of urine and the sight of death linked forever together in his pimpled psyche. He couldn’t breathe.

There was a sound behind him. The boy’s head snapped around and he came face-to-face with Jesus. A vision. A trick of November night, perspective, and his own primal fear floating beyond the edge of the ridge behind an old church. The Saviour was covered in blood and writhing on a copper clad crucifix bathed in moonlight.   Christ floated in the air. The boy’s testicles crawled up into his abdomen. He turned around again and the branches of the lilac bush moved just enough in the November breeze for him to get a glimpse of the body connected to the white foot. The cold, curdled, cream shade of bone ivory stopped his breath. Just before he ran he found enough air in his lungs to scream.

“Albino! Albino! Albino!”

There was a dead girl on the Albino Farm.

When Officer Redlands got the call he’d only been on duty for an hour. Redlands was disappointed at first. He worked the night shift because that’s when the action happened. Chases, confrontations, combative assholes, evildoers, action, that’s what he needed. Adrenaline made his headaches almost go away. The motto he lived by: “Feeling tense? Punch a Perp.”

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t true for all policemen. I hate it when idiots claim police brutality whenever they get a paper cut signing their confessions. Some of my best friends are cops. A few officers have arrested me so many times that’s it’s only natural — and practical — that we establish good relationships. If I get beat up? Well, most of the time I deserve it. Redlands, however, has a reputation down in Vaporville that strikes fear into all of us peace-loving criminals. He’s known to be devout.

Redlands drove through Vaporville and slowed at St. Philomena’s church. He looked up at the dark hill behind the church; a sharply cut bluff with a summit that stood even with the old stone steeple. He knew the way. Past the church, the street twists back and out onto the old river road. Tirawa’s city lights fade quickly in the shadow of the hill, and it was dark. He’d been up to the Albino Farm before, but he still needed his spotlight to find the turn-off. The “farm” was high on a sharp, wooded ridge that ran between the big river and my Vaporville neighborhood, up a twisting muddy road into a wooded area, through a clearing, and past some abandoned ramshackle houses where, by legend, the albinos once lived. Redlands had grown up in Tirawa so he knew the stories. He almost flashed his high beams to blind their pink little eyes. That was the customary way to insure safety when you took your girl up to the Albino Farm.

He turned the patrol car up a narrow path of tire ruts and drove a few hundred yards more up to a lookout. There’s a little empty gap there in the woods at the crest, room for three or four cars to park. And it’s only a few steps to the edge where the bluff falls away steeply. The view looks directly down on the rear of the old stone parish church. St. Philomena’s tall steeple pushes up from the mildewed roof of the sanctuary and looms, suspended out in space, even in height with the summit of the hill. On the pinnacle of the church’s tower there’s a huge cross with a particularly Mel Gibson-style Jesus. When the light is right, the gap from the cliff edge to the cross seems to shrink. Some kids on acid think they can make the jump. They can’t. Some kids think Jesus is smiling. He’s not.

Unfolding from the Taurus — Redlands was 6’5” — the officer proceeded to the hilltop. He had been a star offensive lineman at the Catholic Prep school, and though he was a bit trimmer now, he was still a load. His uniform was perfectly pressed. He was obsessive about the regs. It was too dark to see his eyes but, take it from me, they were a dull brown, and he didn’t blink as much as normal people do. I found all that out later. Redlands’ hair was razor neat and buzz cut clean. He loved the uniform; things seemed simple when he was wearing it.

After some twenty yards, he observed a patch of muddy dirt smelling of urine, and some twelve feet to his left and front, the bare foot and lower leg of an unknown female. Caucasian. He spoke into the mini-tape recorder his wife bought for him at Wal-Mart for Father’s Day even though they had no children.

“Victim is on her back. Appears deceased. Vulva is exposed. Skirt bunched up around her waist. One breast exposed, torn white blouse.” He placed two fingers on her neck, not gently. Her head rolled away from the pressure. Even by a big man’s measure, he wasn’t graceful or Alan Alda sensitive. “Victim is deceased, no obvious trauma. Time: zero thirteen hours, am returning to car.”

He pressed the button on his shoulder com-unit. “Baker 218…Baker 218.” Then he babbled some numbers, jargon, and shoptalk that added up to “Murder on the Albino Farm.”   I don’t know what any police codes or procedures are, except for that procedure that always ends up with me in cuffs on the way to the hoosegow. So far I’ve been luckier than Officer Redlands. He drives a cramped little Taurus. I always ride in the back of a nice roomy Crown Vic.

The call made, response received, Redlands opened the trunk and got out the Crime Scene Tape. He really liked Crime Scene Tape. String it around an area and regular people couldn’t cross it. It kind of created a little sanctuary; holy ground. He unwound the tape carefully. He didn’t want any tangles. Things should be neat. Then, as he waited for the detectives, he knelt down and started saying a rosary for the soul of the dearly departed. That’s the kind of guy he was.

And that’s why he had to die.