Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Coldwater Hotel: Merritt, BC (1920)

This is how Max's Dad came into the world.
(All the names, places, and events in this blog are entirely fictional). Uh-huh.

We took Mom by the arm into the private domain of the men past the lobby and bar. Doc had been at the bar for his morning medicine. I hollered from the kitchen for him when Mom’s water broke.
“Leah, Sarah...,” he yelled, “help Colleen onto the billiards table.” And to one of the upstairs girls standing at the sliding mahogany door, “Jill, don’t just stand there. Fetch a bucket of hot water and some towels.”
I asked Doc, “What’s the hot water for?”
He looked annoyed at the question, “Just set it on the chair.” He washed his hands in the hot water. I laughed inside because he was about to act as though he knew what he was doing throughout the birthing ordeal. There ain’t much a man like Doc can do but to prepare to do nothing and look the part of a doctor.
Sarah placed the towels next to Doc’s left arm so that he could dry his hands. I was grateful Sarah was there because she seemed to be unshaken by all the commotion and she knew what to do. I let her order us around, “It’s okay, Ma, I’m here... Bring some pillows, Jill, Leah, somebody.”
Jill ran out the door to the linen closet and returned with a pile of pillows stacked in her arms.
Sarah scowled when she’d caught me taking a Cuban from the humidor to whiff it, “Leah.”
This adventure into new territory might as well had been into the Amazon Jungles for me and I wanted a souvenir. But Sarah was the eldest and, at thirteen years of age, she was bossy enough ta’ help Mom hold us all together. I have to admit we would’ve been runnin’ wild if she wasn’t in charge. One of her disapproving nods had the cigar back into the humidor before I could say anything. It was like my hand didn’t give a dang what I thought.
 I loved the smell of cigar smoke that lingered in the billiard room. It was intriguing and, truthfully, I savored the aroma of taboo from a foreign land far more than the cigar. It evoked comfort from the spirits of rich tobacco leaves wrapped tightly in a ten-inch stick as thick as the Doc’s cane. Long as I remember, I always wanted to get away... out into the world. Maybe visit Andy in Odessa. It must be like to city it was named after... palm trees and all.
Sarah’s full attention returned to her mother. Jill pulled a sheet over Colleen’s body for modesty’s sake. Mom didn’t care a whit about modesty but, though Jill was an upstairs girl, she must have. She averted her eyes from Colleen and nervously tried for eye contact from the Doc. I knew she had no idea what to do next. Sarah nodded towards the sheets over Colleen’s feet and, with a knowing smile, ordered, “Take your end, Jill, and. fold it.”
Jill had been holding her breath and let it out. She followed Sarah’s lead throughout the rest of the ordeal... which was to do very little beyond standing there and watching.
Mom wasn’t showing anything but a determined grimace with each wave of contractions that had taken control of her body. She had done this five times before. You’d think she’d be used to it. She gave birth to Sarah first... a month before her sixteenth birthday in1904. A year later she gave birth to my brothers, Dwayne, Clyde, and another brother, Andy, who was put out to Aunt Nellie in Odessa. I was next one born and now there was this accident four years after me.
I snuck into the billiards room once looked up Odessa on the globe. I was scared we’d never see Andy again when I saw that Odessa’s on the other side of the world. Sarah straightened me out on that and explained there was an Odessa in Washington.  
Mom had accepted the fact that, as long as she was with Dad, her belly would be filling up with one accident after another until she died of toxic shock like she almost did twice before. You could tell when Mom and Dad was doin’ good ‘cause their affection for each other could be measured by births. The first three came in rapid succession and, as Archie was doing well at the tables, the others arrived.
Doc moved down to the other end of the table, crouched holding his hands like a quarterback between Mom’s knees. She turned her head away when Sarah pushed him aside and took over. Doc washed his hands again and tried his best to look important.... like there was a reason for him being there at all.
Sarah told Leah, “This one going to be a girl.”
“Rrrrgh....guhhh!” Colleen pushed.
I asked, “How do you know that?” moving closer to the humidor.
“Because Mom said so. She promised,” Sarah said.
“It don’t happen that way.” I was quick to point out.  I’d learned to lift candy from the counter down at the General Store. I had my hands fumbling blind behind my back and found the humidor, “God puts a thing on ‘em no matter what’s promised.”
“No he doesn’t! They have it or they don’t. God’s got nothing to do with it.”
“God like’s boys better than girls. I gots a picture of God in one of Dad’s books up there.” I pointing at the bookshelves with one hand and, while Sarah looked up at the bookshelf, I slipped the cigar out of the fancy jar and tucked it in my apron pocket.
“Rrrrgggghhhhh.... uhhhhhh!”
“Push,” the Doc said, adding, “The head’s a breaching... you’re almost there.”
“RRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!”
Sarah counted on her fingers, asserting with authority, “It’s mathematic.”
“What do you mean, mathematic?” I challenged.
One, two... two girls and three boys. Gotta even it out.” Sarah busied herself untying a shoelace.
“God likes odd numbers: threes, sevens, twenty-one...” I knew math from Dad’s card games.
“No he doesn’t,” Sarah didn’t care but was a straight A student in math and everything else. She didn’t like to be wrong, “We need to have three girls and three boys, huh Mom.”
“Ain’t threes odd numbers?” I challenged.
“RRRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHUH!!!!”
“No, I meant three and three make six you dummy.”
“Waaaah.... waaaah..... whaaaaa!” the kid hollered like he didn’t want to be out here.
“I don’t get it,” I craned my neck back and forth trying for a glimpse at the babe’s crotch.
Sarah held the crying baby up and laid it on Mom’s chest.
Doc started to bring a knife to the umbilical cord when Sarah blocked his arm.
“I got this, Doc,” Sarah said, then apologized, “Sorry Doc, but we ought to wait a minute or two.”
“Yes, Sarah, I know... I wasn’t...”
Doc’s must have been used to treating common stuff like gunshot wounds and mining accidents, amputating a smashed limb, or fixing a lumberjack’s broken arm and putting it in splints. If anything would have gone wrong I don’t think he would have had the slightest clue as to what to do. Sarah told me she suspected Doc was a quack and I believed her. No one else suspected him though ‘cause doctors were needed in mining towns. Doctors have offices in big cities like they did in Seattle but his office was just his room in our hotel. He did have a few medical devices; a doctor’s bag with a stethoscope and a bunch of doctor’s stuff he took everywhere. He also kept a machine in his room called a Violet Ray Generator that he used to try curin’ dang near anything. And he had him a 1919 model-T coupe for gettin’ up to the mines and logging camps.
 “I know, but I was ready, “Sarah did know what to do though... she had the shoelace ready... tied off the umbilical cord and snipped it off with pinking shears she’d been using earlier.
 “That’s not, we gots. It’s, we have,” Sarah snapped. Disappointment was all over her face ‘cause she saw the babe’s little package and jerked the sheet up to cover Max, “Don’t talk like a lumberjack.”
“Is it Max or Maxine, Sarah?” I was eager to know for sure. “I can’t see... I think I saw... c’mon, you saw. Did God put one on it?”
Sarah said nothing.
“Yes! Yes! It’s Max, ain’t it!” I jumped up and down and hollered loud enough to be heard on the street, “I told you so.”
Dad burst into the door when he heard me shoutin’. He stopped in his tracks and glared at Doc, “What were you thinking, you friggin’ quack!”
Doc looked up from washing his hands. I don’t think he knew what got Pa’s goat, “Look, I’ve no control over whether it’s a buck or doe.”
“No, you idiot. It’s the felt! You ruined the felt! I just had it put on,” and without thinking of what he was doing, I saw Dad put a hand in the amniotic mess that had spread over his cherished fresh green felt at his end of the table. He pulled his hand back like he’d put it on a hot grill. “Throw me a god-damned towel!”
Doc returned to his usual bluster, “Where did you want her, on the floor?”
Ma’s eyes were shut. She’d shut off her hearing too but she heard Dad and would have laughed at his powerlessness had her body and mind not been busy. I think a mother can do that after two or three kids... shut off the noise but hear what she needs to hear. The sound of crying was muffled as tiny lips wrapped themselves around the nipple in the midst of the soft cushion of her breast. Max quieted down and began suckling.
She smiled at her husband, “Not a damned thing you can do about it now, Mister Man.”
It was true, as far as birthing went; men are, for the most part, entirely unnecessary... especially these two. It was a woman’s operation and men are better off most of the time standing by with a bucket of hot water or pacing outside the room and staying out of the way of a good midwife. Even the adolescent Sarah was of more help to her and that has been the way of it since Adam and Eve when Sarah says that a girl named Lilith was the midwife for Cain and Able.
Dad saw the lid to the humidor opened a crack and looked around the room. He pulled out a cigar, and ordered, “Get her off that table!” He turned to leave, looked at me. He must’ve read my eyes. I stepped behind Sarah, and, on the way out to the big room, he shouted, “Now! Bring her up to a decent bed!”
Jill shrank back. Her eyes darted in terror at Dad’s demands.
“Leah, take Max. C’mon Mom.” Sarah wasn’t intimidated by Pa. She gently lifted Max away from Colleen’s breast despite his objections.
Mom was already coming off the newly laid fresh green felt and motioned to Jill to help with the other, and said, “It’s okay, Jill. The hard part’s over.”
Sarah handed Max to me.
The hotel was a three story one with an elevator. The first floor was the lobby that opened to a larger room with a roulette wheel a half dozen blackjack and poker tables. The second floor had several rooms for patrons of the hotel and for the upstairs girls. The girls came with the deed to the hotel that Dad won at the poker table and he saw no reason to let go of the hotel’s most profitable assets in spite of Mom’s objections.
I whispered to Jill, “He’s too heavy for me. You take him.”
Jill was happy to be trusted to carry the baby and to have something better to do. Holding Max awkwardly, like he was a treasured Chinese vase, she felt his weight, “He must be twelve pounds!”
I laughed, “He ain’t gonna break. Hold him like you know him.” Then she tweaked his little nose and cooed, “Yes, you’re a big boy, big Max.”

The name stuck and Big Max would grow and live up to this moniker magnificently.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Chapter 9. The Investigation

Hemmingway
I've been attending a writers' group and it has helped me make some changes to the rough draft of this story. I have made some changes of the names too. I changed the name of the prostitute from Loretta to Annadel, or Anna and the protagonist from Mike to David Craszhinski, or Crash. Details of the story have some changes too but the essence of it is here. In this post I skipped ahead to a rough draft of the ninth chapter.

   I knew how most civilian investigations work. A crime scene is taped off, if there is one, and all evidence on the spot is gathered. No one works alone like Colombo. It takes teamwork. Witnesses are interviewed and from there it goes door to door asking the neighbors; “Where were you when it happened? Did you see anything unusual? Did you recognize anyone?” A list of possible “persons of interest” is compiled and then it’s taken to the interview room at the station. One by one “persons of interest’ are narrowed to a couple of suspects. There’s not much need to go back into the field. Confessions, or leads, are extracted there with varying results.

   Sometimes it’s another story with persons of interest who contribute to campaign funds like Doc does. If a simple child molestation accusation comes from an obscure source, like a prostitute, the case might not be filed at all. She is more likely to be arrested and booked for her sins and, added to that, filing a false report. I’ve seen it happen. This isn’t because of overt corruption. More often than not it is a combination of case overload, a simple bias, or bureaucratic laziness. If the witness is corrupt, and that the case has no chance in front of a jury, the matter is complicated.

   A murder escalates the concerns of all involved. If the person of interest is a campaign donor and the victim is a cab driver, there is a good chance that the case will go cold. Perry case would have been lost in a glacier of ice… just another suicide… except that Ryan had a dog in the hunt.
I flatter myself to think that this dog was me but I believe that my friend was in love with Anna.

I had to leave the sanctuary of Anna’s studio to pick up my VA check at the Virginia. Spiderman was at the desk holding up the foldout of the newest Pethouse to the light. I had to slam the ringer to get his attention. He damned near fell out of his chair. Recovering his composure, he said, “I see you         Crash, but I’d rather look at this. What do you think, is she a ten?”
   I looked at the fold-out a second but asked, “You got my check yet?”
   “Say, Crash. Have you been takin’ vitamins or something, you don’t look so bad.”
   “I didn’t come here to get married sweetheart, I just want my check.”
   He put the magazine aside and pulled the government envelope out of a drawer and slipped it across the counter, “You ain’t drinkin’ are you.”
   “ It’s only been a week. You think it shows?”
   “Yeah, it does.”
   “I just have to keep my head clear for a while. At least ‘til a few things get straightened out.”
   “I gotta tell you. A PD Detective was here lookin’ for you. What kind of shit did you get yourself into, Crash?”
   “Not sure, what did he say?” I knew it had to be Ryan.
   “He just asked if I knew where you were stayin’ and if I knew that Anna chick. Man-oh-man, I sure do wish I knowed where she kept herself.”
   “Hey, you’re starting to drool.” I stepped back and started to walk away. “But thanks Spiderman. You don’t have to tell him I was here.” The thought came to me that Ryan didn’t know where I was hiding out. Anna hadn’t let him know either. I supposed there was no reason to let him know until I had a better idea what I was up against.

   I went to the corner to cash my check. John had been doing that since I first moved into the Virginia. I always paid up my tab on the first of the month. I had him cut it off at fifty bucks so that I wouldn’t use up my reserves. That was my way of budgeting a monthly hundred twenty-dollar check. It was a thirty percent disability… the pittance the VA threw my way to delay paying off at a higher rate. It seemed as though the VA was betting most of us wouldn’t have the stamina to endure the delays and obstructions before an appeal came through. Most Vets gave up and walked away… went to prison, committed suicide, or died before an appeal was ever awarded.
   John cashed my check… counted it out. I passed fifty back.
  “No Crash. You can get me later… when you’re back on your feet.”
   I looked at my feet, peeled off fifty bucks, “I’m on my feet John. Here, take this. I’m okay, really.”
John took the money, “You know; that cop friend of yours, Detective Ryan, was here first thing this morning… banged on my door before I opened. He says it’s urgent.”
   “I know. I’d appreciate you don’t know anything… right.” I passed three quarters over the counter and he passed back a pack of generic unfiltered smokes.
   “I can’t lie to a cop, Crash.”
   “You don’t have to lie except by omission.”
   I was halfway to Gutierrez Street before I realized I hadn’t bought a pint from John. It felt good.     Two more steps and I wanted to turn around… Maybe go to the Ofice to see Nancy. I didn’t have to struggle much though. It felt like a big hand was on my shoulder guiding me away. It wasn’t long before I was on the breakwater lighting up a smoke and listening to the surf pounding away under me as I sat on the concrete bench taking in the sun. I knew what the big hand was and the feeling was vivid… like the way I felt watching Adrian breech and come out of the Elaine’s vagina fighting. It was a feeling of awe, fear, and beauty. That’s when I saw Ryan coming towards me from the Yacht Club.
   I patted my hand on the wet spot where the spraying surf left a puddle as he approached, “Don’t sit here unless you want to get your butt wet.”
  “Walk with me to Mizz Sherlock, Crash. You in the mood for some fishing?”

   Mizz Sherlock was a clean boat of about forty-five feet… nothing fancy of about her. The old Chrysler marine engine that powered her could be pushed to twelve knots max… cruises at ten. The cabin was big enough to squeeze in a gateleg table for eating that dropped down for a third berth and a chart table for plotting a course. It even had a shower below next to the head.
Under the forward hatch was the usual two berths. The most modern feature on it was a marine radio scanner and 1950’s radar screen. There was no fish-finder sonar, or RDF. A compass, sextant and clock was good enough for him. It was a comfortable cabin and the boat was made to hold up under the conditions of damned near any seas.
   We didn’t need to talk as we boarded and cruised out of the harbor. I knew he was going to fish for something more than Yellowtail and that he would be patient. The sea-air away from the harbor was different… just as fresh and all… but there was something about it. It was fresh in the nose… like the sweet smell of freedom. I’d sailed a skiff around the sloughs of the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay before I was drafted. The Navy wasn’t taking high school drop-outs and draftees back then. I could have been on Swift-boats. But the Army took anyone then and I found a home there.
I tossed the pack of smokes into the churning wake. It was a compulsion. I don’t know why I did it but it felt right… something like pouring out that beer.
   We set up our poles and took turns at the helm. Ryan opened a cooler and pulled out two cans… a beer for himself and offered me one.
   “You got a soda or something?”
   “You quit drinking too.” He wasn’t asking. It was like he was reading it from a report.
   “No. Just laying off a bit. Who told you that?”
   “A little sparrow… ‘sides, smokin’ and drinkin’ go together.”
   “Shit, you get around. So does fishin’ and drinkin’.” Not knowing how to drink one, I gulped down the soda and tossed the can off the stern. “I didn’t really quit. I’m just putting some time between drinks, if you know what I mean.”
Ryan scowled and pushed five-gallon bucket next to me, “Put ‘em in here next time.”
He cut the motor and we just drifted with the current. He continued to look at me with a scrunched brow.
   A weight pressed my chest and caught in my craw, so I let it out, “Anna’s in trouble.”
   “I know,” he dropped his beer in the bucket as his line went taut and his pole bent nearly to the waterline. He yanked the pole from its rod holder and hollered, “It’s fishin’ ya know. Sometimes the little ones fight harder than the big ones. You don’t know what you’ve got until you pull it in.”
   The reel on the pole zinged the line out…. Ryan’s body leaned back with the pole in both hands…   “It’s not a Yellowtail!”
   “How can you tell?”
   “A Yellowtail won’t take it to the bottom. Gotta be a shark. We’re fishing with too light a line.”
“What do you have, the Loch Ness monster?”
“I might as well… we might be in for a long… long… haul.” Ryan didn’t look as excited as I thought he would be. He was calm, “Damn. I was looking forward to some sushi.”
   “The day isn’t over yet.”
   “I was fishin’ for bait. This bugger is going to take more than we’re rigged for. Fortuitous… let’s talk about that.”
   “About Anna, or this fish?”
   Ryan pulled the line back from the tip of the rod, took out his Buck knife, and cut the line. The pole snapped back upright, “You tell me. Anna’s too smart to get big headed. She’s in a trap she got into as a small fry and now she’s upped the ante.”
   Anna hadn’t told me enough to know how much Ryan knew or how much I should let him know. I wasn’t comfortable between these two loyalties. No wonder I drank. The beers in the cooler started to look damned good. I cracked one open but didn’t take a sip. I just held it in my hand like Linus’ security blanket.
   Ryan’s eyes were on my beer, “Your old boss is into some pretty sick shit. Worse than that, he took that bimbo with him and now it’s starting to cave in on all of them.”
   “I’m not sure what you mean.”
   “Perry.”
   “Anna told me. I was in jail at the time… you know?”
   Ryan busied himself re-rigging his gear, “I think I’ll put some live squid on it. Change it up. You probably don’t know what’s been going on. I don’t think you even cared until a week ago. Am I right?”
   “That I care? Yeah, I suppose I do. Ryan, I think I’m coming alive. I feel it. I’m done with all this bullshit… it isn’t self-pity and all. I just didn’t give a shit.” I watched Ryan finish hooking up the squid and cast out with only a light flick of his wrist. I set the beer in the holder on the gunnel and took the helm. Ryan didn’t have to tell me to take the helm and I began cruising just fast enough to create a wake. I looked back in time to see a Marlin clear the water. It was a good sign the day would be a good one. I shouted over the throbbing motors, “So, Anna’s the live bait? Why are we fishing if you already have a bead on Doc?”
   Ryan reeled the squid towards the boat in front of where we saw the jumper and, as an aside, he shouted, “You know there’s Great Whites out here too. Funny thing about them. They have some sort of instinct… At the Farallons, a friend… a marine biologist, told me. I don’t know what it is but, if you kill one… well, the old ones… the big ones… they skedaddle and don’t come back for a long-assed time. Maybe all you got to do is kill one. Folks don’t know that.”
   “You aren’t going to let me know more?”
   “About fishing? Crash Craszhinski, you’ll know more when I know more. Try to remember, this crap will take time and patience. You stay close to Anna; she can help us out but we don’t want to scare off the big ones. I don’t trust her story. Her heart is good but she’s a compulsive liar.”
   “Then, I take it that you’re not going by the book this time?”
   “I am. But the book we’re going by hasn’t been written. Circumstances always warrant an exception. I have to tell you, something smells bad at the station. Might go up near the top of the chain of command in the DA’s office. Someone’s stepped on my earliest attempts to investigate.”
   “So, Ryan,” I was intrigued now. Ryan was going rogue. That wasn’t his style. I had to probe, “I need to know what we’re getting into.” Still not sure what anything he said was about, I added, “I’ve never liked working with ARVN’s commanders in the Embassy. Too much like catch and release.”
Ryan’s rod dipped a couple of times, “Sometimes they tease the crap out of ya.”
   I cut the engines as soon as I heard the reel’s shrill r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r’s. He yelled, “That ain’t a Great White!” He planted the butt of the rod under his belly and the fight was on. I could see why Hemmingway loved Marlin fishing so much. It could be compared to a fifteen round boxing match. It looks like I had a ringside seat for this bout. The line went straight down, pole bent… keeping the line taught, Ryan reeled and released it… brought it closer and letting it go further. The line changed directions a dozen times before the fish breached in a graceful leap coming back down on the line as sure as a fencer’s parry and lunge. The pole sprung back straight and the line went slack… the fight was over… the Marlin won.
   Ryan laughed, “That was one smart asshole! Took lessons from Douglass Fairbanks for sure.”
   “It was more like Liston and Clay… over in the first round,” I sniped, but one of the things I especially liked about Ryan was his quick acknowledgement of his adversary’s prowess. My stomach started to churn and I realized how hungry I’d gotten.
   Ryan pulled up his line and relieved me at the helm. “Yeah, but don’t it give you a rush? Let’s go over to the oil rigs and get us some lunch.”
   All in all, it wasn’t a bad day. Ryan had snagged one and let it go. Another just plain got away.
He snuggled the Sherlock idling in the shade under Platform B casting distance from the stanchions where we lobbed our lines to the bottom. Within minutes we were both hauling in a couple of nice rockfish and calico bass. I was afraid we were going to have sushi but Ryan pulled out the propane Hibachi from a space under the deck. We filleted our catch and had them on the grill on the spot. I couldn’t remember a time in the past several years when I felt life had been so sweet.
   After eating, Ryan stood at the helm, fired up the old Chrysler and said, “This isn’t catch and release. We’re dealing with great whites and Anna’s our bait.”
   Mizz Sherlock rounded past the sand spit buoys, sea landing jetty, and into its slip on Marina One. I dropped the bumpers, jumped off and set the bow line to the cleat when Ryan stopped me. “Don’t tie up the stern. You’re not staying.”
“What’re you talking about, Ryan?”

Friday, July 24, 2015

Annadel's Condo

Annadel’s condo was on Burton Circle by the beach. She’d only lived there a few weeks and I had never been inside. Her old place was a small teenager’s mess with clothes laying everywhere, dishes in the sink, Ramones posters on the wall, and more of a crash-pad than an apartment. She opened the door to what I could see was a grown woman’s home.
  “Is there anyone else living here?”
  “Why do you ask?
  “It’s so much nicer than...” I looked past the living room to an open-concept kitchen and dining room furnished modern eclectic with oils and lithographs framed and placed perfectly. It was a good sized apartment that must have cost her a tidy sum.
  “Come in. Let’s not stand here gawking,” she laughed... probably at my wonderment. “All the other girls are throwing their money away on coke and worse... know what I mean?”
  “Who did the artwork?”
  “I did those two and four of the lithographs. The other two were done by a friend in my class. They’re my City College student projects,” she was proud and I was proud of her.
  “Geeze girl, I had no idea,” I gave one lithograph a good looking over. It was a small print no bigger than 20 by 10 of an odalisque that looked at first like a good Ingres knock-off but its face had been subtly changed. The come hither look of Ingres’ nude became more of a, come hither if you dare. Goya type demons filled the space Ingres left black in the background, “Man-oh-man. You... are... good.”
  “You know. One day I came home from a client’s joint. His was a nice place and I thought, I can do that. I did my last line of coke. I drink a little too much but I’m seeing a therapist for that.”
  “Oh good, hon. I was afraid for a minute that you’d gotten religion.”
  “Have a seat. You want coffee?”
  Anna began talking like she’d never had anyone to talk to. She explained how she got a library card first and how the art museum was near-by, “I always liked pictures but it dawned on me that I could do almost as well as these masters if I knew how... you know... mix paints and, and use materials? You know? It was like learning magic or alchemy”
  “I do... I do.” I did too. That was why I was trying to get back the muse with my Remington. I knew exactly what she was trying to do and my own spirit was lifted by her enthusiasm.
Then Anna changed the subject back to me. She asked, “Crash, you don’t still want to get back on at the cab company, do you?”
  “I need the cash. I can’t stay on your couch forever.”
  “Crash, I gotta tell you something. There’s a reason Doc let you hang,” her face turned sour, “Think, the San Ysidro Ranch back when I first told you I was turnin’ tricks... remember?”
  “You were crying.”
  “What? You still go to the Ranch sometimes though...”
  “I’m talkin’ ‘bout when I was fifteen. I’d been goin’ to client’s places like that since I was twelve.”
  “Twelve?” I was stunned. It wasn’t enough that she was jail bait at fifteen but... “How... what?”
  “I was living with foster parents then. They sent me to school in a cab because we lived in Painted Cave. The same driver picked me up. My so-called folks made like it was safer that way... a driver we could trust.
  “So-called? What do you mean?” this was beginning to sound sicker than I could’ve imagined.
  “They set me up with him and he set me up with dates.”
  “... And the money?”
  “I never saw the money. Between the driver and my folks I was given enough for lunch money. Get the picture now?”
  “Shit, like real pimps. Who was the driver? I’ll kill the fucker.” I went through a list trying to remember the cabbies in those days.
  It gets worse. Sometimes it was San Ysidro Ranch... sometimes it was the Biltmore cottages... it wasn’t always the same people and other times it was a big group with other girls. The man and his ole lady there... they was especially into little girls.
  “Surely County Welfare or the police would’ve...?”

  “I couldn’t tell who they were but that they were all very rich and wore leather masks. you know, all that S&M gear.”
  “You might have set them up some way then,” I advised, embarrassed I said anything when it was too late to do anything about it.
  “It ain’t like the movies, Crash. I was twelve years old... everyone I was supposed to trust had been screwing me over in more ways than one. How was I to know who to trust? I went along with it and tried to make the best of a bad situation. Foster kids are survivors Mike. We learn early on how to get by.”
  “I assume it was still going on when I picked you up that night.”
  “Yes and no. Something bad happened. I ran away on my thirteenth birthday... as far away as I could get. I ended up in Vegas.”
  “From the frying pan into the fire,” I said.
  Shit, I was hearing things that were incomprehensible to me... and I thought I was jaded. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know any more but she had me in the grip of anger and confusion, “What brought you back here? Was it that bad there?”
  “No, it was good. I mean... it was all I knew. I learned the trade with, and then without, a pimp in Vegas. I already knew how to handle the work but I learned the business side of it ... the salesmanship... from switch and bait to teasing up the price... how to work the tricks for more money... know what I mean?”
  Damn, I thought... she could teach a thing or two about business to MBA’s.
  “I came back to Santa Barbara to do a job and maybe get even with... I was only thinking about the money those bastards took from me... what they made me do... but not the cost of... what? My innocence? My soul?”
  “You know this is a lot for me to digest. You said something happened at the Ranch?”
  “Someone you knew was there.”
  “Who? Was it Bob? Was he the driver that set you up? Was it Doc and his ole lady that...? I’ll skin ‘em alive.”
  “Take it easy, Crash. I was too old for Doc by then...” she stopped herself as though she’s already told me more than she thought I should know. “and besides, Bob helped me.”
  “Oh no. Too old at fifteen? Then, why were you crying?”
  “It was nothin that was done to me if that’s what you’re askin’. Just say... except maybe foreign objects. I shot the guy up with a cocktail. He wanted a real cocktail... you know? I’d been around by then but I never heard of people injecting Coke in their Johnson. But, I did that and made sure he got more than enough H in his arm...”
  “The driver I knew?” I had to think... I hadn’t seen the connection, “Perry... yeah, he died of an overdose. But they found his body on Mountain Drive.”
  “I paid three grand to have him dumped.”
  “Three grand... three years ago... three years before that. You like threes girl?” I tried to lighten it up just for my sanity’s sake.
  “Just the way it turns out.”
  “Okay. Fine with me but let me put together what I figured out so far. I know that Doc is the guy in the mask... am I right?”
   She didn’t need to answer.
  “I’m not sure from what you told me whether the woman was always with was his Rachelle," I thought about it some more; huge mams are regular fare in porn for S&M. " I'm thinking it was a mistress. So far so good, eh?”
  Anna’s face told me more than anything she might have said but she finally talked, “I think Ginny just went along. She’s a Christian and if it wasn’t for her I might not be here to tell you the rest.”
  “Bob, where does he fall into this sewer?”
  “Bob knew you and I were friends. I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry.”
  “... and Bob knew about. Shit, people personalize drivers all the time. Hookers, dealers, and the middle of the night junkies trying to score... it’s the bread and gravy of the graveyard shift.”
  “For a graveyard cabbie, I can’t believe how naive you are sometimes, Crash,” she affectionately teased.
  All I knew was that I was being tutored on the intricacies of the depravity in the underbelly of Santa Barbara by a teenager and it didn’t sit well with my ego. I had to let her know that I wasn’t that dumb, “Bob dumped Perry’s body.”
  “So, now you know why they got rid of you and now you know that it will be fatal if you insist on going back. They will take you back just to keep you close.”
  “Is there a connection between this shit and the DEA busting the drug ring?”
  “Did you ever wonder why the news stopped talking about the others taken down in the bust; that a washed up drunk and alleged drug dealer gets charged with public intox. It’s puzzling how it was all over the second page of the News Suppress; implications tying you to complicity in it, isn’t it?”
  “You learning all those big words in City College? Naw, I just figured they had the wrong guy and that it was a big mix up and...”
  “Shit Crash. This is so much bigger than you’d ever dream... not in your worst nightmare.” She picked up our coffee mugs, “I’ve been up all night. You want more coffee or do you want to go to bed with me?”
  Going to bed with someone as young as Loretta, even though she was of age, was still child molestation as far as I was concerned.   “I can’t, Anna, you know I appreciate the offer.” I knew that to her it was just a good friendly gesture and that was all it meant. I was proud of myself... “I’ll just use the couch.”
  “Come to bed with me Crash. We don’t have to do anything. I just want someone to hold.”

  Okay, I bent my few standing morals a bit but I never took advantage of her. Had I done so, I would have been no better than Doc and Bob. If people asked me whether I was sleeping with her I could honestly answer the question either way; literally but not figuratively, like the old Henny Youngman type jokes, “Did you sleep with my wife?” Say, “Not a wink.” and leave them wondering.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Changes

Besides working on my epic novel about the Northwest I've a few short stories. The one I'm presenting here started out as a short story but may very well turn into something bigger than that. A crime novel? 

Changes (1989)


Salesmanship 101
(Selling Yourself)


  It was the beginning of the end of an era in my life when I had my cab license yanked by the City. I had been at a dead end for several years and I didn’t care. Cab driving always gave me the independence and pocket cash I needed to survive; enough for a room at The Virginia Hotel; a place to stay invisible driving at night; and, more importantly, enough to keep a bar tab. But now that was gone.
  I dumped the jar on the dresser and separated the pennies from the dimes and quarters. There was enough for a pack of generic smokes and a pint of Popov’s at Jerry’s. The pennies I might put in rolls later and take ‘em to the bank. I didn’t necessarily want a drink but I definitely needed a drink.
  I slipped out through the lobby while, Lucas, the desk clerk, sat on his fat ass behind the check-in counter reading a Hustler or Penthouse. He was a spider waiting for its prey all day without moving, the lobby was his web. When anyone touched the carpet at the bottom of the stairs he sensed the vibration at the desk. I made it all the way to the door before he called out, “Crash, you need to…”
  “Yeh, I know. I’ll come up with it… maybe this week?”
  “I’ve let you go a week already. The boss…”
  “C’mon Lucas, I’ve always paid up. The cab company told me I could dispatch and I’m waiting for a call to get a shift.”
  “Okay, but I want to see you before my shift ends tomorrow with good news or you’re out.”
  Spiderman was a good guy. He was just doing his job. He’d covered me several times in the past but he had to answer to the boss. I went back to the counter to apologize, “Lucas do you know how humiliating it is to beg another week reprieve?”
  “Humiliating? Look at me. I sit here at a dead-end job putting the squeeze on losers for the rent. I probably have a year or two left of my shitty life and you talk about humiliation?”
  “Never looked at it that way, Spiderman. I’ll pay up soon enough, okay?”
  “It’s Lucas, not Spiderman. Friday… no later than five, Crash,” he shook his head, “and that’s final.”
  I was out the door before he finished. I got my smokes and pint before it occurred to me to give the company one more try before I’d take a toke off the pint. I didn’t need liquid courage to land my ass in jail again. After being put on hold ad infinitum every time I’d called the past week I knew what to expect. I just wanted someone to squirm face to face. The company’s offices were down on East Yananoli, near South Salsipuedes, and not too far a walk if I took the tracks.

  It’s an uneasy feeling to be in a place where I was no longer a part of the business after working for the company several years. It was like we were family but I had become a ghost. Bob, the dayshift dispatcher, sat behind the glassed-in office at the dispatch desk and swiveled around to check me out. He looked at me was as though an intruder had broken through the barricades.
  Dr. Spawn, was in. I could see his door ajar when I stopped at Ginny’s desk. Dr. Spawn was one of us; an old cabby that hooked into Rachelle ten years before. He was once called #76, Larry, but now he insists we use his formal name; title and all. Drivers like Doc and Bob were the opposite breed of cab drivers from my kind. I was resigned to being a graveyard hack and harbored no ambitions other than to stay out of sight, wanting nothing to do with the wrangling of the territorial imperatives between drivers and the front office.
  There are those in every cab company, however, who thrive on pushing ahead in that kind of shark infested waters. They can haul groceries and church ladies all day without losing sight that they are fishing for a widow with enough inheritance and to glean what they can. Patient as any fly fisher, they cast and wait to reel one in. 
  Rachelle was in her late fifties when Doc sank a hook in her. He was a smooth talking thirty something then and she fell big time for his pitch. He gave her a free ride to Vegas where they got hitched by an Elvis impersonator, and that was the last time he did anything for her that came from his own pocket.
  Ginny pretended to be on the phone ignoring me. I stood there for several lifelong minutes before she acknowledged my presence.
  “Hi, Crash. What can I do for you?”There was an ice from her tenor that was unsettling. She was warmer towards me the last time I saw her.
  “I need to talk to Doc.”
  “I’m sorry, Crash, Dr. Spawn’s not in…” Ginny held the phone receiver between her ample breasts. She kept them locked up under a heavy duty bra and puritan white cotton long sleeve blouse adorned with a silver cross.
  Doc’s door shut quietly, “Don’t tell me that. Did a ghost just close it?”
  “You can come back when Dr. Spawn isn’t busy, Mr. Craszhinski,” her tone became just a tad warmer but not enough to thaw the ice. “I’ll tell Rachelle you were here when she comes in.”
  All the drivers used to stop by the receptionist desk to chat with Ginny just to be in the presence of her larger than Dolly Parton’s Alpine rack. She was a freak of nature for sure. When Ginny became Doc’s plaything we were only allowed as far as the dispatch office by the front door into the office to make our drop. The fact that Ginny was a devout Christian made her exceptionally attractive taboo and Doc’s prohibition only slowed us down a little until after he left the office.
  I knew Doc wasn’t busy. He didn’t run the company. Rachelle and Bob did that. Doc only owned it; bought boats and Mercedes and business trips to Paris with Ginny when Rachelle was away on real business. He was in charge of PR and advertising. His wife was the money behind it all. She knew about Doc and his receptionist but looked the other way. 
  Rachelle was, like Doc, a minister that preached in one of those non-denominational charismatic churches. Divorce was not an option and, besides, Doc had some other grip on her bank account she’d signed away when the romance was hot. That was before she converted Ginny and Doc did all the laying on of hands.
  I’m really not all that into monster mammies on women but my eyes couldn’t help themselves. I alternatively gave Ginny’s breasts the once over before nailing her eye to eye. I planted both hands on her desk and demanded, “Ginny, don’t give me any shit.”
  Her magnificent bosom rose and fell with each breath, “Crash, I want you to know that Jesus loves you. He died for your...”
  Bob came out of dispatch. “Get back in there Bob,” I turned to face him, “The phone’s ringing.”
  Bob stood a minute and considered whether there was anything he could do. We went back a few years. There was a time when he could have mopped the floor with me but he’d grown soft in the office and wasn’t about to take me on now. I passed Ginny’s desk and opened Doc’s door. Doc was standing a few feet back and raised his hands palms out.
  “Crash, good to see you. I was just going to tell Ginny to let you in,” Doc backed behind his desk and sat down, “Have a seat.”
  “Cut the shit, Doc,” I was brief with him. Behind Doc, on the wall above his head where he sat, hung two certificates nicely framed. It was his PHD diploma and a doctorate of Divinity from Universal Ministries. A few of us knew about how Doc got his degree. It was a con like everything else in his life. He had somehow incorporated, formed his own college, and turned in a thesis. The fact that he was the college’s president, dean of graduate studies, and only student, made no difference on the sheepskin. Bob was the entire review board that accepted Doctor Lawrence Spawn’s thesis. It amounted to little more than a list of stats about cab drivers... marital status... military service... the average longevity... the age range... and education.
  “Doc, I need a break. I know you need a graveyard dispatch now that Pete’s in jail.”
  “Crash, you know I can’t rehire you so soon after…”
  “And you know damned well I wasn’t busted on the job like they were... it wasn’t drugs.”
  “It just doesn’t look right, Crash. Made the news… big DEA sweep.”
  “Yeh, like I’m a king pin living in the flea-bag Hotel Virginia.”
  “Drunk in public; creating a nuisance; assaulting a police officer...” Doc was flipping a pencil. He missed the catch and it rolled to the floor.
  “They dropped all the charges ‘cept drunk in public,” I picked up the pencil and handed it to him, “Beside, Hell, I was at home... not even in my cab... not even in public!”
  “The city still pulled your license,” Doc started chewing on the pencil. I couldn’t take my eyes off it wondering if he would choke on the eraser, “I can’t do anything right away.” The pencil caused him to talk through his teeth.
  “That’s an excuse Doc and you know it.” I approached his desk,     “Dispatch is for drivers that get their license yanked. Who else would want the job?”
Bob had returned to Ginny’s desk with a long cop flashlight in his hand.
  It was true. Dispatchers get paid barely above minimum wage and supplement their income by squeezing tips from drivers. No tip... no good fares.... all’s fair.
 “Look Mike, I have to clean up this place. Times are changing and Sergeant Lopez is getting on all our asses. After last week the City’s leaning on him too. Go to Schick/Shadel; to a rehab or AA. Let ‘em know you got sober... get it on paper when you graduate.”
  “Bullshit, Doc. Clean up all you want... but you know damned well you ain’t so clean yourself.”
  “So, you must know. But since I found the Lord...”
  “Don’t give me that Lord shit, Doc,” and pointing to the wall I threw his crap back at him, “You can get widows and schoolgirls to wipe your ass with that paper but it won’t work with me!”
  Doc stood from his chair to escort me out but I was on a roll and knew I must have said something that got his goat but I had no idea of the implications. His face turned from pasty white to beacon red like he’d been hit in the nuts, “Mr. Crazshinski, if you don’t leave now I’m calling nine-one-one!”
  I hadn’t ever heard the old smooth talker con-man yell like that. Doc stood from his chair holding the phone receiver away from his ear.
  Bob opened the door, “You need help Doc?” He lifted the flashlight like he was ready to use it.
  I slammed my body against Bob and shoved him out the door so hard he landed on Ginny’s lap with one of her bullet breasts inches from his mouth. I was out of the building and never did see him rise from Ginny’s lap. I suppose I did him a favor landing him there between her Matterhorns.

  There it was. A chapter in my life had just ended. I didn’t want to but it was time to pack up everything and sneak out the hotel by the next night. I had to put my stuff somewhere. My Remington... Maybe Anna will keep that for me. I made it out through the lobby. Lucas waved and smiled. I waved and smiled back at the old spider.
  I needed a drink. My feet took me up State Street to Pal’s. It was a sad walk that took me there. The old Kingston Trio song... Hang down your head Tom Dooly and its repeated chorus replayed... for boy you’re bound to die... over and over... a dirge. I got to the Snake Pit bar where Annadel stood outside smoking a cigarette.   “You want company, Crash?”
  “Company, sure,” I smiled. Anna made me feel good. She was a real friend, “but I can’t pay.”
  “Well, sailor, your credit’s good.”
Anna had been a personal, a regular customer, since she was fifteen. When I first drove her around town I thought she told me she was going home late at night from babysitting or a date. I didn’t care whether her story was a lie of not. However, home was always a different place: the Biltmore cottages; Hope Ranch or Montecito mansions; or humble tract homes in Goleta. She eventually told me she was turning tricks but I knew it.

  I'd picked her up from the San Ysidro Ranch and my curiosity got the best of me when she got in my cab crying. I wondered what had upset her so much and tried to console her, “What’s wrong. You get fired or something. It isn’t so bad getting fired. You’re young... something better will come up.”
  “I don’t know what makes people so sick,” she sobbed.
  “You gotta look past that in a job like mine,” I said, wondering how I could get to what was really going on with her. I probed,“You must do good babysitting at places like this.”
  She stopped sobbing, “I’m not a baby sitter. I get three hundred bucks a pop for just taking my clothes off and dancing for a half-hour. I’ve gotten as much as two grand for more... you know, an overnight stay.”
  “Two thousand dollars! Whew... pretty good goin’ girl. That’s a far cry from that back pack and nowhere to go when we first met.” I thought, Shit... Real jail bait. Isn’t it illegal... or, at the least immoral, for me to know this?
  “Well, most of ‘em start out with a dance. I give ‘em a discount. But if they want more they gotta pay.” She grinned seductively, “By the time I’m done with a dance and tease, they always want more.”
  “You get that most of the time?”
  “Yep,” she teased, “If I asked that much up front I doubt if I would get it. But ya gotta hit ‘em up gradual. It’s an art. You want a taste?”
  “Naw, girl. You’re jail bait. I can’t do it. It would be like doin’ my own daughter.”
  “More like doing my daddy for me too, ha!” she had a laugh that rippled a small stream from her belly.
  “Maybe when you’re legal, eh?”
  It could be said I was aiding and abetting child abuse but I was ambivalent about it. I was certainly not one that would’ve been able to change her even if I did snitch on her Johns. That was a while ago and we’ve had a few good times since then but not that kind. We’d done a few lines, or a joint now and then, but it became a relationship of trust we both needed. By the time she was eighteen it was too much of a close friendship that I wasn’t about to ruin with my libido.

  “You look like you need a drink, Crash. What’s goin’ on?”
We were approaching De La Guerra arm in arm like lovers would. People often turned to notice this young girl with a man like me in his late forties. One guy approached her as though I wasn’t there and asked, “Is he your father?”
  She snuggled closer to me, “No, he’s my pimp.”
The creep checked me out making eye contact the way punks in jail face each other off.
  I would have decked him for that but Anna was capable of handling it herself.
  “You couldn’t afford two minutes with me,” she blew smoke between us two stags rutting, “Shit head, make that one minute.”
  The guy backed off and walked away.
  I liked the way that, when Anna was with me, she always acted as though we were a couple and that suited me fine. I think it was her way of telegraphing to others that she was off-duty and to be left alone.
  Searching her face for sympathy, I said, “Doc’s not going to hire me back. I’m out of a job and soon to be homeless. I’ll have to move into the van.”
  “Oh, boo-hoo. Always on the edge, Mike. You’ll come through. You need money? I can put up your rent.”
  I didn’t like owing anyone anything. It meant they owned a piece of me and I didn’t enjoy that idea at all, “Isn’t it bad enough that you’re buying my drinks today?”
  “Oh, it's okay. I’ll buy ‘em. C’mon, Mike. Cheer up. It ain’t that bad. You told me once, pride ain’t an asset.”
  “I could use you for a place to stash my crap though.” It didn’t hurt my dignity for her to do that much for me.
  “Sure, Mike. What are friends for?”
  Claire was tending bar when we took our stools. She liked Anna but wouldn’t serve her anything stronger than a soda water. She was already crossing the line to serve her but she could take a chance on a soda water, “A soda with lime for you and a beer on tap. Right?”
  “See my new I.D. Claire... how do I look?”
  “You look eighteen... hmmm, Laura Rogers... March 21, 1969? That’s a good one. And, if you are what that I.D. says, I must be eighty five,” Clair laughed.
  “She kind of looks like you if you dye your hair.” I said.
  “Madonna must be forty Claire but you look as good as her,” Anna was sucking up while I snuck the pint to her glass and dumped a taste into her soda, “I mean it, Claire. You’ve held your age well.”
 “I saw that, Mike. Madonna’s thirty-one... two... maybe three,” Claire corrected, poured a shot of schnapps and downed it. “But time, sweetheart, will have us all joining the ranks of old broads soon enough and you'll have to retire that body.”
  I lightly elbowed Anna, “You’re eighteen, little woman. You think anyone over thirty’s ancient. Like we did in the sixties.”
  “Back to your stuff, Mike, old people talk is boring,” she sipped her soda water. “I can take some of it but my place doesn’t have much storage.”
  “All I need, really, is a place to keep my typewriter where I can use it.”
  “You can hide it in the ice room... Back where the boss won’t see it,” Claire offered.
  “Look, Mike, my door’s always open. Get the point. You helped me when I was a kid,” Anna countered Claire’s offer.
  “You girls bidding for my attentions,” I was feeling a little high thinking of the possibilities. I eyed Anna’s young abs exposed above hip-huggers with a gemstone tucked into her God’s eye of a belly button.
  “Your attention but not your intentions,” Claire said with a shrug.
  Anna was used to leering old men but got serious with Claire... almost in tears, “Did I ever tell you about when I rode in his cab in the middle of the night with everything I owned in that ragged old backpack.”
  “Oh, c’mon, a thousand times. Where did you find her, Mike?”
  “The Snake Pit, why?”
  “She’s repeating old stories.”
  “I know… I know. Sorry.” Loretta returned to the subject, “You’re used to writing at night Mike. The bars close at two. What if you want to bang on that damned Remington and it’s locked up in the ice room?”
  That was exactly what I wanted to hear... all pride aside... but I said, “Pencil and paper worked for Poe.”
  Claire grinned, “See. Don’t let him fool you. That’s what he wanted all along, huh Mike?”
  I am a man after all and I have to admit my mind was swimming with the erotic idea of sharing an apartment with Anna. My silence was most likely mistaken for hesitation but my sub-Mike was already introducing her to my family, marrying her, and slipping between the sheets. It’s an ego thing. Lonely men like me dream of entering a room with a fantastic young women in arm... it smells of success... I imagine the envy... he must be rich to have that! The best I usually get is another bar-fly past her prime like me.
Loretta must have read my mind because she patted my back sympathetically cooing, “Now, grand-pa, you got the couch as long as you need it. Okay?”
  “Now, all I’ve got to do is to get back with the company. I kinda blew it today.”
  Claire scowled, “What did you do now, you knucklehead.”
I laughed. It always made me laugh when Claire or Anna called me a knucklehead. From anyone else it’s not so funny but there’s an arcane cuteness about that word coming from them. I didn’t feel like explaining it. Claire knew about the bust and everything but she didn’t know about how or why I was shut out that morning. I didn’t feel much like explaining it to her either because I had no idea what was going on with Doc and Bob.
  “It was your last chance, Mike. What are you going to do now?” Claire asked. I could tell she’d merely posed a rhetorical question so I didn’t answer.
  “C’mon,” Anna coaxed me off the stool, “We’ve got things to do and they ain’t gonna get done sittin’ here all day.”

  Claire called out as we left, “Don’t sell yourself short, Mike. You’re better than you think you are.”