Sunday, February 28, 2016

Prologue of Anadel (continued)

Forensic Pathologist, Doctor Kate Williams, was about sixty and had always looked that age as far back as Ryan knew her. She didn’t look any older, nor any younger, as the years passed.
They stood next to the cadaver while she pointed out the wound in the back of his head, “You’re early Ryan. I haven’t cut him open yet. No exit wound. Probably a hollow point .22 caliber. When I crack open this coconut, I’ll find it likely took out three quarters of his brain. It’s not speculation, I’m thinking this one’s a homicide.”
Ryan scratched his chin, “No evidence of a struggle at the scene. No cash on the driver… could have been robbery or one of the kids dirt-grabbed it. We have the weapon. Twenty-two caliber revolver. Wiped clean. Nine round cylinder. One emptied cartridge… short casings. Ballistics is testing it. You’ll find it matches the empty in the cylinder.”
“I would say so if I were to say so,” she quipped. As always she came to few conclusions until all the evidence was taken into account.
Ryan and Dr. Williams were quiet. Ryan said under breath, “There were two of them in the back seat.”
“Why do you say that?” Rogers asked.
“Two sets of shoes in the gravel, if you bothered to look.”
Out of the blue, Rogers said, “His friend, Craszhinski was thrown in jail last night. We could’ve talk to him there but that Gook Whore of yours bailed him out.”
Ryan thought Rogers was a punk and let the insult slide but the kid’s point was plausible. But Ryan had been around long enough to recognize a bum steer. He played along anyway, “You got something there, Rogers?”
“Maybe Craszhinski’s her pimp and Perry owed… Sides, I read about that Ed Kemper dude. He made friends with a Santa Cruz cop while he dined on co-eds.”
“… quite a stretch there, sleuth,” Dr.Williams interrupted. “I don’t deal in speculation.”
Ryan had seen enough, “Come with me, Rogers, let’s see if his boss can shine any light on this.”

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Prologue of Anadel

Prologue: Ryan's Day

November 13, 1987:
Jewels of light below Camino Cielo were coming alive and sparkling in that hour before dusk slips into the black sheath of night. Sunset's clicking and buzzing nocturnal solace was interrupted by the rattling angry buzz approach of dirt bikes a couple of hairpins from the Painted Cave junction. Three kids on dirt bikes came upon the taxicab waiting at a turnout; its motor running; drivers side rear door open. Its headlights lit up an old pine that stood tall over a turn-out near the junction of Painted Cave Road and Camino Cielo. The driver of the taxi was behind the wheel. He wasn’t waiting for a fare. He wasn’t waiting for anything at all.

“Hey, look… the driver’s sleeping. You think he’ll wake-up if we…”

One of the kids opened the driver’s door. He shut off the ignition noticing a wad of cash bulging out of the driver’s shirt pocket, he shouted, “He’s not sleeping, Jason.”
*****
The hour was magic between the dark of night and before the first light from Ryan’s low-rent studio apartment on the second floor on Foothill Road. The coffee machine began its morning drip, pop, fizzle grumble set for five AM. He’d been at the scene of the taxi cab past midnight. These calls rarely happen at one’s convenience. Still dark outside, he made the single bed, went to his kitchenette, and poured a mug of coffee. Black, and filled to the brim, he took the mug to his desk in the corner under the window that, from the second floor facing Southwest, allowed dawn to decorate his view on one side. It wasn’t so dreary for him. When the divorce papers were signed, he’d reflected philosophically, “We hardly knew each other anyway.” After all, they were no kids. His passion was in his work and his only vice had once been Cuban cigars. It hurt him worse than the divorce when the cardiologist insisted he quit smoking. The desk was the only piece of furniture besides a dresser and the bed. He raised his cup to the picture that was still on his desk, “To you, Imelda, the hair of the dog.”

Narcotic/Vice Detective, Ryan, opened a folder that contained several polaroids he’d snapped the night before and played back the interview of the kids on a micro cassette. The photos were of the taxi cab and close-ups of the driver, head slumped over the wheel. They were of Douglas Perry… his most reliable Confidential Informant. He pinned the pictures to the corkboard above the desk. There were others too. The untrained eye might think some were accidents… camera went off… shots of the ground. But closer scrutiny showed they were of dirt bike tracks, foot impressions in the gravel, and car tire tracks.

The tinny voices of all three kids from the recorder told the same story of riding up on dirt bikes when they found the cab parked in a turnout on Camino Cielo. None said anything about the wad of cash in the driver’s pocket and none was found anywhere else on the body or in the cab. Ryan suspected it was probably robbery and nothing about it looked like suicide. He only had to drive up San Marcos Pass to Camino Cielo from his place again after he finished his second cup of coffee… about ten minutes. The body was still pliable by the time Ryan saw it taken away in the meat wagon before midnight. He’d been around corpses long enough to know it takes two or three hours for rigor mortis to set in.

He ripped the dry-cleaners’ wrapper off one of four dark blue sports jackets, chose from a selection of identical light blue shirts, and a clip-on striped, grey, blue and white tie. He pulled up his chino slacks over stout, muscled, legs that spoke of years of roadwork training for the ring. He stretched his belt to the last notch over a paunch from lack of exercise. His exercise was restricted to light cardio workouts on the treadmill… doctor’s orders to go light. He drove back up to the crime scene at sunrise in his blue 1970 Chevy Caprice. Turning right off San Marcos, a squad car passed him going the other way off Camino Cielo. Two City Police cars were parked behind a flatbed tow truck so he parked on the other side of the road. The driver at the winch was loading the taxi while the rookie, Rogers, clipboard in hand, acted the supervisor of the whole operation while three other uniforms stood back and watched.

“Who ordered it towed?” Ryan barked.

“Take it easy, Ryan. What’s the big deal? It’s been here where you left it last night.”

Ryan’s eyes scoured the dirt within the yellow crime scene tape.  A set of tire tracks were scuffed up in the dirt in front of the cab and two different shoe sizes were in the gravel next to where the rear door had been. He had snaps of the tire tracks but hadn’t noticed footprints the night before or he would have snapped some pics. Frustrated he asked, “What’s the use of this tape if you’re letting a herd of buffalo traipse through it?”

“Come on Ryan you know it was self-inflicted.”

“No prints anywhere on the car?”

“Clean.”

Ryan nodded towards the tire tracks, “Homicide’s been here? I don’t suppose plaster casts were taken of these before you stepped all over them?”

“Yep to one and Nope to two.” Rogers’s made no attempt to cover his annoyance at being questioned by this old fart.

Ryan drew out a tape measure next to the foot prints and snapped a few more shots from the cheap Polaroid One-Step 600 he carried with him to every crime scene. He could see that there was little use in hanging around much longer. The new Coroner’s Office had moved down the hill next to the County Sheriff less than a mile from his place. He needed to run things by someone whose judgment could be trusted. “Let’s see what the coroner has by now. Ride with me Rogers, you might learn a thing or two.”

Almost at the junction of San Marcos Road, they had to pull over to the side to let three lit up, lights flashing County Sheriff cars speed towards the scene. Rogers said, “Right-on. We’re off the case.”

*****

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Concussion

Some events replay in memory exactly as they happened because they happened in slo-mo. He was barreling back to the Library when the chain slipped off the sprocket of the bike… He reached down to jimmy it back… then the front wheel hit a pothole, cranking the handlebars ninety degrees… Max sailed head-long over the handlebars… no helmet. He knew he was in trouble.
Max was drifting in that space between spaces that the Tibetan High Sheriffs of enlightenment call a bardo. It was vivid dreaming to him. He had been flying.  Then, frightened, he plunged back into a bag of skin or something he recognized as Max’s body. His head ached… no, it throbbed with pain. He could feel his pulse with the pain. He wanted to go back to where there was no pain. A doctor and a couple of nurses stood by.
Thud, it was over… in an instant his life changed… it changed and he became Job at the city dump. Seizures… skull cracked ear-to-ear… memory loss… a near-quack huckster for a doctor… old friends slipped away… new friends enabled… disability insurance… not enough for child support and rent… choices… self-medication… cocaine… alcohol… a miasma of suffering… anger… rage. He couldn’t imagine it…. It had to change… maybe a cause of some sort.
One of the nurses shook Max. “Wake up. It’s time to wake up!”
Annoyed, he opened his eyes. He thought he saw a custodian that looked like that old guy, Lucky, pushing a cart in the hallway outside the door off his hospital room. A doctor was talking about an X-ray, Basal Fracture. Hydrocephalus.
“What! Leave me alone.”
A doctor hovered over Max with a little flashlight checking his eyes. He spoke. The nurse scribbled on a clip board “Papilledema.”
Then to Max, “Can you tell me your name?”
“McGee. Uhhh…,” he had to think, “Max. Why?” Max was getting more annoyed. The light was like a needle in his eyes, “Get that god damned light away!”
The Doc held three fingers in front of Max’s face and asked, “How many fingers do you see?”
Max held three fingers in the Doc’s face, “How many do you see, Doc?”
“That’s good.” The Doc checked Max’s ears with the flashlight and then said to the nurse who was taking notes on a clip board, “Not good. Blood in the ears. Concussion. Order a CAT scan. Monitor CSFs.”
“What the fuck are CSFs? Talk human language, Doc.”
“Simply said, they are brain fluids. Once they start it is hard to control them without dramatic measures.”
Confused, Max didn’t remember much of what had happened. Confusion bred annoyance as the Doc continued his probe, “What is the date today.”
“Is this a joke? May…?” shit, he thought. What is the date? “No, June 15th?”
“Year?”
“Eighty…. Uh… eighty-four… no, five?”
“Amnesia,” the Doc droned no surprise. He continued with Max, “Who is the President?”
Max thought for a minute. “What the fuck? I’ll screw around with this guy. Of course I know who the President…” He drew a blank, “was it Carter and, and, shit. Who came in after that? Yeh, it is Reagan. Ronald Reagan. My head hurts, Doc. You got something for pain?””
To the nurse, “An IV, Demerol. CT scan. We’ll monitor CSf.” He said and went out the door.
Max remembered the eight-ball. “I gotta get back to the bar. I owe my tab.”

The nurse taking notes on a chart put a hand on Max’s forehead, “You’ve had a serious concussion, Max. Relax.

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.