BLOG NOIR – CHAPTER 2
Okay, I admit it, I only started yesterday. But I’ve been thinking about it all week. I’ve found though, that thinking it and writing it are two different things. This is the first time I’ve attempted to write fiction of any length in the first person.
You wouldn’t think it problematic, since we write our blogs in the first person, but it’s still an adjustment into fiction. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think it’s a fun genre and I hope that I didn’t abandon the excellent precedent that Jim set for us. Like Jim, I am flattered to have been included in the project.
Forty-eight hours to traverse the country and find some carousel I haven’t seen in over fifteen years. For what? To bail out the reason for my outstanding therapy bills?
“What do ya say, Spades?”
The dog knows his name, always responds to a question with an attentive gaze as though contemplating the answer. In this case, even giving up the car window to redirect his attention to the matter at hand. I like this dog.
My street is a less traveled dead end one off a well-traveled main one. It is a great way to reside in town without having to put up with street chaos. The house is an old Victorian, not as large or ornate as the ones on the main drag, but it does just fine. Not that I can afford the entire house. Years ago, it was divided into a duplex, although, gratefully, tastefully done. The only curbside indication is that I have my own drive, my own door. Houses on top of each other, there is very little yard, but what I do have is fenced. The drive barely stretches the length sufficient to park my car, but it keeps it off the street.
Pulling in, I realized that I wasn’t ready to take Spades in. I could go in, pack in a rush, come back out. If I take him in, he’d make himself at home, and it could easily turn into a commitment. I looked over at him as though he had the answer, and noticed that he’d assumed “alert” mode. Ears and tail up, low growl forming in his throat.
I followed his gaze and I saw it too, a shadow, perhaps a silhouette, on the shaded side of my porch.
Spades hungrily clawed the door, begging for an opportunity to sniff out the perp, which could easily be the neighbor’s fat ass cat.
“Okay fella,” I said as I opened the door, “Go for it, I’m right behind you.”
I pulled my gun just in case, kept it low, and walked around the car to take my walk up to house as I normally would. That’s as much time as Spades needed. He yelped, no doubt wondering what the hold up was on my end, and I ran over red feathers to catch up to him.
That’s what the hold up had been. I had slowed just briefly to ask “what the fuck?” as I took in my normally graying and moss covered walk. Today the walk was completely covered in red feathers, all the way up to the house.
“Yelp! Whooooa! Thud!” It sounded as though someone had just dropped a truckload of potatoes on my porch. By then I’d caught up, but Spades had the situation well under control. Pinned underneath a fierce and slobbery exhibition of teeth, lay an annoyingly amused son of a bitch. He was difficult to recognize, as his fake moustache, sideburns, and tasteless sports jacket had been ditched, revealing an almost attractive human being. Too bad he was an idiot. A stalking idiot.
“Putz, meet Spades.”
Putz’s transformation must have included an infusion of charm, as he smiled crookedly at Spades then said, “Nice to meet you, Spades. I make a mean steak, maybe we can work out some sort of arrangement.”
A confused Spades stopped growling as he tilted his head and seemed to give it earnest thought. Yet his front paws remained planted in the guy’s chest, jailing him prone.
“Wanna call him off now?” Putz beseeched.
“Not particularly.” Definitely keeping this dog. Moments like these are rewarding.
“Look,” he said as he gave up his amused mockery of the situation, “I’m a Fed. We need to talk.”
“Yeah? This is the second identity you’ve assumed in as many hours, and I never knew the first one. Nevermind the fact that you appear to be a deranged stalker who litters the walks of his targets with red feathers!”
“Max, daaaarling,” he began sarcastically, “You can call him off, and I’ll pull the badge, or you can kneel down here and feel around in my pants. Either way works for me.”
It was a shame to let that line work for him, but he had a point. “Alright Spades, give him room to breathe.”
My new pet, brilliant animal, obeyed, but continued his ambivalent gaze while the humans conversed.
Putz produced the badge. It was good. Wonderful. Like there’s time to be dicking around with a Fed.
“You don’t look like a Sean O’Callahan.”
“Yeah well, you don’t look like a Max Robichaux.”
Moments later, I was asking the guy how he takes his coffee. But I don’t have much use for social calls from Feds, so I instructed him to spill it. Not that I wanted to hear it. Should it have anything to do with my father, chances are I was better off on the first train out, so to speak.
“It’s about your father.”
“No shit? Look, I know he’s in trouble, but for some reason I got the idea that it was with an organization that threatened more than imprisonment.”
“Ahhh. Let’s skip to the part where you tell me what led you to my doorstep, and why the pathway there is covered with feathers.”
“You’ve been busting up marriages and ratting out insurance fraud too long, Max. You damned well ought to know what it’s about.”
“We’ve kept the cases away from the media as much as possible, so I’m actually somewhat relieved that you don’t know. We need to give them a false sense of security. They don’t slip, we don’t catch them. They’re that good. And that prolific. Growing like a damn tumor up my ass. Their daytime name is Patterson Development.”
“Heard of them. They’re big, well-respected, had a hand in numerous downtown projects.”
“Not well-respected across the board. We’ve had our noses up their ass for about ten years, but it’s only gotten really bloody here lately. They make those idiots you uncovered for insurance fraud look like circus clowns. And they have their eye on you. The feathers mean that they know where you live. Had they painted your door red, you’d be as good as dead. Max…. Max! Where are you going?”
“To pack, I have somewhere to be in 44 hours. And I don’t have time to let some screwball Fed unload a bunch of urban legends on my ass. Feathers, paint, and murder would make headlines.”
“Not if it didn’t happen. Somebody’s cleaning up after them from the inside. I think your daddy made a few contacts in prison, and I’m betting he has a name.”
“Wonderful. I’ll tell you where to meet him, and you guys can have yourselves a wonderful little witness protection courtship, and leave me out of it. If you need me, I’ll be taking the leaf blower to my walk.”
“Why are we here?” After the line of vague bullshit served up this morning, I can’t believe that I allowed this guy to talk me into “teaming up” for a few days. It’s not like it was an option. He’s a Fed, and his assignment was to babysit my ass. He scattered some damn feathers and fed me a line of bull to play on my girly fears, making me putty.
The fact is, I will make sure that I’m chaperone free the second he outlives his usefulness. In the meantime, I told O’CALLAHAN that we had a trip to make. Of course he knew that, just didn’t know where. No telling how long those bastards were tapping my line. I know how to check for these things, obviously, but who fucking spies on a P.I.?
He talked me into scheduling the flight to Louisiana tomorrow, since we’d likely be followed. And assuming his paranoia was substantiated, it was a valid point. Get in for the meeting and get out.
“Why. Are. We. Here? I hate casinos.”
“Yeah, me too,” O’Callahan grinned and cut his eyes, the liar. He looked like a wild cat on the prowl. “Let’s go. Tourists, informants and mobsters, oh my…peacefully congregating under one roof; ah, is there any place more magical than Atlantic City?”
As “Mr. O’Callahan” was greeted by several staff members, as well as patrons, I was guessing he was a regular. We finally came to rest at the black jack table, where an hour was washed down with some bourbon and cards, with a net loss of only $50. Not bad.
O’Callahan stood up and stared across the room. I followed his appreciative gaze and came up with a beer-bellied, bulbous-nosed, angry, sweaty guy and a mid-twenties Marilyn Monroe look alike almost wearing a little red something.
She sashayed her way over with enough sway to make me seasick. She then parted her high glossed lips and let out a small sigh before she spoke in a voice much deeper than I expected. “Sean,” she purred “Do you have another girlfriend?”
“Hi Love.” He was grinning down at her, amused, smirking, and very charming, damn him. What’s with the nickname? Love?
He continued, “Love, I’d like you to meet Max Robichaux. Max, this is Love Carlisle.”
I think I managed to get out a “charmed,” perhaps followed by an “as I’m sure they all are,” before I became distracted. I saw an earless man approaching.
“Christ Sean,” she started, quickly discarding the cigarette she had been savoring the moment before. “I can’t believe that you brought her here. Didn’t she get a warning?”
“She can talk,” I said. “And would that warning be the tooth or the feathers? And who the fuck is Mr. Earless?”
“Works for Patterson. Your father is still breathing, therefore Toby is earless. Speaking of, he’s stupid, but he’ll spot you soon enough, particularly if you’re talking to me.”
“And? What’s he going to do? Hold me hostage until my father claims me? He’s never fucking claimed me before. How did I suddenly get so special?”
Having had enough, it seemed like a great time for a smoke. I could tell that dame was useless. She knew things, that was a fact, like how to mix truth and fiction.
I made my way to the exit while they continued to waste each other’s time. I was enjoying my second smoke when he found me in the side alley.
“What are you, crazy?” he asked as he approached, “This isn’t exactly the best place to seek solitude.”
He was in my face now and I’d had it. Time for him to see how quickly I could draw a weapon in a pinch. His back to the wall, I walked towards him until we were breathing the same air, his back against an outside wall, and my gun in his crotch. “Let’s get one thing straight,” I educated. “I am not your assignment or your keep. I will not be paraded around by a putz emboldened by a badge and discussed as though I’m not in the room. Got it?”
“Had it. Lost it when you shoved your pistol in my pants, but I like the forcefulness...” I increased the pressure, and not verbally. “Got it,” he relented with a nervous grin.
“Good. Now would you like to tell me why the hell you took me here, if not to parade me as your pet of the week?”
“I was parading you, but not as a pet. Although, I must say that you clean up rather well. At the risk of sounding fashionably heightened, I’m loving the low neckline on that sweater, and trading in the sensible pumps for the strappies…nice. I like your hair better down, though the look does set off your eyes. Did you know they get even greener when you’re angry?” Oh, he could charm a fucking snake with that low gravelly tone and sparkle in his eyes. “By the way, I have green eyes in my family. Irish heritage. I bet we’d make the best looking kids…”
“Congratulations. I don’t know whether to thank you or slap you.” As bitchy as that was intended to be delivered, it actually surfaced only mildly sarcastic, and with a teasing grin. Damn him, but he’s goooood. Not the tired lines, but the delivery. “So, why the parade?”
“You’re still in town. People need to know that. They’re all waiting for you to move. If I knew you have somewhere to be tomorrow, they do. They just don’t know where, but I’m betting they’re looking for a carousel. That’s one reason for the appearance. We shake things up by not being in a huge hurry. Also, there’s a carousel in Atlantic City which might throw them off a bit, or at least divide their resources. And lastly, it’s important that we not approach this from a strictly defensive standpoint. We have a few mysteries to uncover ourselves.”
I was quiet on the way back. I didn’t like this. Not that I’m the best driver in the world, but anytime a man has strutted in and grabbed the wheel that is my life, bad things have happened. I’m not thrilled to be stuck in a position where I must share the beloved control. But stuck I am.
Lafourche, Louisiana, 36 hours later
I had watched the red boxy numbers on the digital clock in the motel room turn for the past hour and 33 minutes. 5:30am. The meeting only three hours away, it was time to get up anyway.
Shower taken, I decided to go on the prowl for some coffee, then wake up my lovely travel companion. Surprisingly, I found his door cracked a bit, and my first instinct was to draw the gun and kick the door open. But I reminded myself that in all likelihood, he had the situation under control, so I postponed the knee-jerk reaction until I had at least knocked.
“Come in.” Gruff voice, curt tone, but definitely O’Callahan. I entered and found him staring out the window, smoking a cigarette, and looking reflective. I had a feeling that his typical lighthearted and flirtatious character guarded a serious soul. Now I knew.
“What is it?” I asked, no need for morning pleasantries.
“Bad vibes, picking up bad vibes. I don’t think you should take the meeting this morning. Let me go instead.”
“Very white knight of you O’Callahan. Nice try. I’m going. You want to help, start talking.”
“Okay, I can’t be sure, but I think I saw someone in the airport yesterday while we were waiting on our delayed luggage.”
He looked surprised, so I knew I had it. He got a weird kind of look in his eyes when that dame walked up to us at the casino, and he had the look again as he spoke. There was no point in asking him what it meant. He didn’t know. And whatever he did know, she managed to confuse. Great.
He thought we’d have more of a window than that. I was hoping he was right. No matter. This was my father, my mess. I would meet him.
The old fair grounds was for the most part gone. In its place a conglomerate of local vendors, a picnic area, and even a small park had emerged. The only evidence of the old fair was the carousel. It was not only still there, but had been maintained. It still circled several times a day with sticky children and nauseated parents. It was oddly touching. Riding the carousel with my father had been one of the good memories. That had been after his cousin’s wedding, the one time he took me to Bayou country.
Three minutes were left on the clock, assuming this would be timed perfectly, and I did. I used the time to scan the crowd; it’s always good to take inventory.
Still early, the carousel was lit, but not yet running. Vendors were opening, and a handful of new year resolutioners were jogging through the park. I became so distracted in my observations that I almost missed the short and stout man in the overcoat and top hat. It had to be him. There were no other viable candidates in sight. My heart strangled me as it began beating into my throat, and I suddenly felt anxiety, a vulnerability that I absolutely loathe.
I turned to check out the park bench a dozen yards back. O’Callahan was there, ostensibly reading the paper and sipping coffee. I turned back to the man in the overcoat. Everything began to blur and move in slow motion. But as he approached the carousel, so did I. The closer we got, the more I became certain that it was him. Every nerve in my body felt like Jello, but I was still in motion. When we were about thirty feet apart, he saw me. Our eyes met just as the shot rang out, and held only for a fraction of a second before he slumped to the ground.
“Daddy!” I was running then. Somewhere behind me O’Callahan was running too. He was running after me, yelling for me to stop, but there was no stopping me.
I fell out of a run and into a sprawl as I couldn’t afford a second of lost time to position myself. “Daddy!” I was screaming in his face, touching his face for the first time in so many years.
His eyes barely opened as he reached out to me, “Max, baby I’m so sorry.” He coughed and blood puddled under his head. “So sorry…”
“Daddy, don’t talk. We’ll get help.” I was sobbing. I thought I was out of tears a long time ago, but I was crying.
“No baby. Must talk. This is all we have. I love you, never told you enough. And I’m sorry. Never told you that at all. I hate to leave you with this, but I can’t trust anyone else. I’m so sorry…” As he spoke he pushed a sealed envelope into my hands.
“No. Dad, no. I love you too,” I whispered.
He was gone.