I showed up to my apartment blacker and bluer than Miles Davis. I could hardly breathe. My nostrils moaned like a defeated trumpet. A minor note droned in my ears.
I was getting the feeling everything was spherical. A thing continuously being played throughout eternity. Beginning where it ends. Ending where it begins. That whole bit. But what do I know, I’m a two-bit gumshoe who’s lost his sense of smell . . . I needed more intel. I needed to get an eye on Snyder. Find out what makes him tick. I still owed Bixby and his boys. I had work to do. Someone’s ass was going to get nailed.
I entered the building.
Mrs. Kelter was upstairs laughing at one of her t.v. programs like a hyena choking on a dead carcass. It was one of those pseudo-reality shows designed to push a consumeristic narrative, an I-wish-this-life-were-mine type nonsense. No wonder so many people find themselves buried under a mountain of debt and feel as if the world were crushing them to death. No more esse quam videri . . . It’s definitely much easier to pick your nose on the couch and flick it across the room than to make any motion towards a life worth living . . . Or something like that.
I tried to drag myself to my door before she could hear me, but she heard me right as my hand hit the knob.
“Is that you, dick?” She managed to call out through the food lodged in her throat
I heard the springs from her couch struggling to snap back to their original state. I struggled to put my key in it’s hole. It just wouldn’t fit . . . That’s what she said.
“You look like roadkill.”
Her voice was guttural and clogged as if her mouth was full of food. A cigarette hung at the corner of her lips. She pulled it out. A glob of spit fell from her bottom lip and hit the floor.
“What the hell happened to you? Those choir boys kick your ass again?”
I didn’t have time to play grab-ass.
“Those boys really knew how to sing,” I said making to open my door again.
“You wouldn’t know a perfect note from a horse’s ass . . . Do yourself a favor, dick, and stick to the books. At least then you can go on believing things that aren’t real.”
“So you’re saying you’re not as big as a horse?”
Her face went from pale to purple with rage.
“You got my rent, dick!?”
“It’s in the — ”
“Mail? Yea, well, so is your eviction notice, you bum!”
“That gives me some time to get my things in order, then.”
“No, you’ll take your things and get the hell out of here right now! You owe me for six months of rent. I want you gone in five minutes or I’m calling the police! I’m sure they’ll get a good laugh out of you. Maybe pistol whip you to teach you a lesson. Put you in your place. HA!”
“Sounds like your wet dream.”
Her anger was boiling over. Steam came out of her ears. It looked like she couldn’t breathe. Somehow she managed to get out one more compliment.
“Get . . . out of here . . . you son’of’a . . . bitch! . . . NOW!”
She gasped, gurgled, and went limp, her whole body plunged down the stairs. For a split second I thought about moving. I should’ve moved. Only I didn’t. The heaving mass that was Mrs. Kelter hit me like a wrecking ball and whatever was lodged in her throat shot out of her mouth and hit me in the eye just as we both hit the floor. Suddenly she came back to life, breathing heavily into my face. It smelt like dog puke on a Summer’s day in Tuscon . . . It was unbearable.
I gagged. Then puked right into her face. Mrs. Kelter made a noise like a dying thing as she rolled off me.
When I was finally free I got to my feet and made my way to my door. I put the key in. It fit. I went in. Grabbed a few books and a bottle of whiskey then got the hell out of there. It was easy. The hardest part was walking.
Jake was leaning against the Volks’ when I came out. He was standing under an umbrella in the rain with a graveyard of cigarettes laid at his feet. He looked pale and sickly under the yellow street light. Heavy bags hung from his eyes.
“Whoa! What happened to you, Frank?”
“It’s called being born.”
“Shouldn’t you go to the hospital or something?”
“People go to hospitals to die. I don’t have time for that kind of luxury.”
Jake took an aggressive final drag of the cigarette in his hand before throwing it to the floor and snuffing it out with the sole of his shoe. He took another one out and lit it. His movements were frantic. Something was on his mind.
“I need your help, Frank. I’m in deep shit.”
“That song’s been played-out..”
I made to brush him aside, but he was as persistent as fleas on a wet dog.
“You don’t understand. I made a bad deal with the wrong people.”
“To each his lot and none is light, kid . . . I’m out of here. Your mom gave me the big bon voyagie.”
“Please, Frank. Just listen . . . Here . . . Hit this and hear me out for a minute.”
He whipped out a joint from his cigarette pack and handed it to me. I lit it. It was tightly rolled. I puffed at the thing until my cheeks caved in and turned purple. The grass was good. I let out a stream of grey smoke into the yellow light.
The words tumbled out of his mouth in a jumbled mess. I had to pick up the pieces and put them together myself like a living jigsaw. None of it made sense. There was some sort of confusion. Wrong place, wrong time scenario. Jake was supposed to play middleman for a big deal. The hand-off-guy for a piece of the pie. But it all got mixed up. The goods never showed. Word got around that it was his fault. He didn’t come through. He said there was an organization involved. A large mob-type group. Secret society hocus-pocus stuff. Real elaborate underground network working throughout the whole city.
“I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. Give me the facts.”
I didn’t. What do I care if there’s a plan for domination by a small group of elitists who rely on someone else to wipe their ass. The Earth has been around for billions of years and they think they’ve got it figured out. Any day this whole thing can go up in flames and nobody will be able to do anything about it . . . None are more hopelessly foolish than those who falsely believe they can manipulate the stars. Every man pays the final price in the end. Whether you’re a Rothschild or a Michael Pitts.
“What about coincidence?”
“Never heard of her.”
I made to get in the car.
“. . .those cowboys are going to kill me.”
I heard the words as I closed the door. I rolled down the window.
“The one’s I was supposed to relay the package for.”
“What was the product, Jake?”
“I don’t know. . .”
I remembered the warehouse and Bixby.
“Does X-9 ring a bell?”
“That’s where I was supposed to deliver the package . . . I’m dead.”
The kid was all shaken up. I could tell he feared for his life. He started sobbing like a little girl.
“So long, Sophocles.”
I started the Volks’. She snorted like a horse ready to break out of the gate. I only knew one person who might know something about all of this.
I laid down the lead.
On the way to Hal’s I went over in my mind what Jake told me. Or what little he told me. The weed had kicked in and taken my pain away. I was relaxed. My thoughts were able to flow easily as I sped past blurred streetlights.
Could the package have been a piece to the puzzle? Perhaps a person? Bertram Welles? No. They wouldn’t trust a punk kid with gold, would they? Hell, even the Hope Diamond was shipped in the mail . . . Unless of course it’s a Kansas City Shuffle, like how politicians take the fall for their financial backers. Puppets propped up to play the part. That way if the ship goes down the captain is already on shore drinking champagne with a lobster dinner. No one would suspect it. No one ever does. The Big Boys go down in history books as saviors. Shed blood but are remembered as saints. Heroes . . . There is a letting happening, we’re just too busy going out for coffee and frozen yogurt.
There was still one person I hadn’t got to. Silver Spoon Snyder . . . He was going to be a tough son of a bitch to get an audience with. He already knew I was sniffing around. Why else would Bixby and his boys come knocking at my door . . . There’s crumbs all over the place. The only thing missing is the fat bastard stuffing his face at the other end.