It is not funny that a man should be killed, but it is sometimes funny
that he should be killed for so little, and that his death should be
the coin of what we call civilization.
Two Guys in a BarSo there I sat at 2:30 on a Wednesday afternoon in Phil Sharpe's Happytime Lounge on South Colfax waiting for my client to show. He was already an hour late. Sharpe with an "e" -- classy touch I thought.
I hadn't picked the place. It had one of those electric signs out front in the shape of a martini glass, and at night you just knew it'd have pink and green neon bubbles rising from it, popping gaily, beckoning to the after-work crowd the way a cheap spinner lures a stupid fish. Probably lent a certain air of carnival to the fetid stench of the surrounding neighborhood. The place was already half full and had been since 10 o'clock that morning. Nobody was drinking martinis.
This client I was waiting for had hired me a month ago to check up on his business partner. Was the guy ripping him off he wanted to know. It was an easy gig and the money was good, a grand a day plus expenses. Christ knows I needed it. Entropy Gradient Reversals Internet Detective Agency, of which I was both sole proprietor and sole employee, hadn't had what you'd call a terrific quarter. The company motto had seemed a real grabber at the time I started the thing up, but now it mocked me every time I handed out my card. "Get A Clue" it read.
"So Frankie," I'd said into the phone that morning after I got past the officious bitch who ran interference on his calls, "I think it's about time we wrap this baby up." C. Francis Booge -- "the e is silent" he would tell you, but Jesus, which was worse? -- Chief Executive Officer of Out of Order Legal Software, Ltd., liked it when I called him Frankie. I could tell it always gave him a little rush, as did the whole business of dealing with someone who did what I do. What a fucking dork.
"So you finally got something for me, huh? What's up?" he wants to know.
"We can talk about that when you buy me lunch today," I tell him. "And don't forget to bring the 10 large you owe me." He says he knows this great little place where nobody's likely to recognize him. After an hour sucking down the swill that passes for coffee in this hole, I can at least believe the last part. Unless, that is, C. Francis Booge with the silent "e" and Phil Sharpe, the pronunciation of whose "e" is a still a matter for deep speculation, happen to be golf buddies. Well, I think, turning the idea over idly, not giving much of a rat's ass either way, anything's possible.
As Frankie is about to find out. Not only is his partner -- one Lawrence Fasterfudge, Esq. -- embezzling heavily, he's also laid off a shitload of intellectual property on some pirate software tong operating out of Milpitas and is fucking Frankie's wife in the bargain. I'll collect before I let him in on this news, of course, as some of my clients are so gripped by grief under such circumstances that they forget to pay up, and kneecapping is getting way too expensive.
I look at my watch wondering if my pigeon's ever going to land and just then the guy next to me lurches up from the bar and slops half his beer down my arm. I'm suddenly busy trying to wipe the stinking bilge off my last halfway decent jacket, but I can't help noticing that the guy is hopping up and down screaming about his balls being on fire.
"Oh shit, I dropped my butt," he's yelling, clawing at his pants and dancing around like a freshly minted psychopath. Back of my mind I'm thinking he does look like a guy who's dropped his butt and now can't seem to find it anywhere. Then I realize he means his cigarette.
"Here, let me help," I offer, grabbing him by his belt and pouring what's left of the beer into his pants. Once I grasp a situation in its entirety, I'm usually quick to act. I hold him at arm's length just in case he gets any funny ideas. But this beatific smile comes across his face as he slumps down against the bar.
"Thanks buddy, you just saved my Johnson from a premature trip to hell," he says, looking genuinely relieved and massaging his still smoldering crotch. "Sorry about your jacket there..."
"Don't mention it," I say. "The women like a man who reeks of stale beer."
"Yeah?" he says hopefully, as if I'd just told him one of the facts of life he'd missed out on as a kid and it was just the information he needed now. "Zat right?"
"Didn't your mamma teach you anything," I say, helping him up. I want to get away from this guy as fast as I can, but human feeling and all that. I mean, he's clearly a total loser but he did just nearly cauterize his own dick. You don't see that every day.
"Lemme buy you a drink," he says.
"That's OK. I'm not drinking."
"What is that shit, coffee?"
"In a manner of speaking."
"Sucks, huh? Hang on..." and he hobbles off and exits through a side door, presumably leading to a backroom grill.
Enough excitement for one day, I think, and gather up some change off the bar. There's a pay phone on the wall behind me. Someone has scratched into the casing "Die You Motherfucking Faggot." Nice job, good penmanship. I get Frankie's office. "I'm sorry but Mr. Booge is taking a meeting," the bitch tells me. She doesn't sound sorry.
"Where's he taking it?" I ask, knowing even before the words are out that she's going to tell me.
"In his office, of course."
"Right. Well tell Frankie if he doesn't haul his ass down here in the next 30 minutes I'm selling this information to his old lady at twice the price." I hang up before she has time to ask. And here comes Guy Fawkes back from the kitchen with -- I'm floored! -- a gigantic cup of steaming cappuccino!
"There you go. On me. Least I can do. They got an espresso machine back there but nobody drinks here knows about it. Wouldn't care if they did. Phil's, you know, a Greek or something. Maybe eye-talian, I dunno. Pretty good friend of mine." The last delivered with some of the old pride staging a valiant comeback.
"Is it Sharp or Sharpee?" I ask, sipping the cappuccino and scalding my lips in the process. It's not bad.
"Hunh?" he says.
"The guy who owns the place," I say. "Your pal."
"Oh, that," he says. "Sharpay."
"Name's Clarence," he says then, as if suddenly remembering and thrusting his hand out to be shaken. This has always seemed to me an intrusive kind of behavior, even if you haven't just been trying to quench your burning manhood, but I know what's expected. I shake his hand. "Pleased to meet you, Clarence. Thanks for the coffee. Tell me, what do you do?"
If you know you have to wait around anyway -- I do a lot of it in my kind of work -- and you can't get away from a guy like this, what you do is you ask him what he does.
"What do I do?," he asks me back, "I'm a sanitation engineer over to St. Mary's School for the Blind. It don't pay much but I gotta lotta responsibility."
"Zat right?" I say, feeling more like Clarence every minute.
"Damn straight," he says, looking me right in the eye to see if it's working. "I gotta make decisions all the time."
"Don't we all," I commiserate.
"Yeah, but this is life and death stuff. Like if I leave my mops and shit in the stairwell, those kids could get killed. They can't none of em see nothin you know..."
"That's the scourge of being blind." What else am I going to say? I look at my watch again. Only ten minutes have elapsed since Clarence performed the Dance of Death right here in the Happytime Lounge.
"So whaddya you do?" I realize he's asking as I tear myself away from the too-frequent reverie, the nagging questions about how I ended up falling this low.
"I'm a private detective," I say. I've learned the easiest route is to just get it out there. No use trying to make it sound like something else. Clarence is not a sanitation engineer, he's a fucking janitor. I'm not an investigative knowledge networker or some highsounding horseshit, I'm a two-bit private eye. Once I thought it had a certain romance.
"Really?" he says, warming right up to it, "you're a private eye? Damn, that's... well... that's pretty romantic."
"Well, isn't it?" he asks. "Chasing bad guys, catching crooks. I wish I did something like that."
"What you do is just as important," I tell him. "Keeping those blind kids from breaking their necks. Remember?"
"Yeah, well, but it's not like you. You're like, well... you know, it's like a movie or something."
"Sometimes it is," I say, meaning it, but not the way he thinks.
"Do you find missing broads and shit?" he wants to know.
"That's not my regular line," I tell him, hoping this won't get complicated but guessing that it will.
"So, what then? You track down blackmailers?"
"Something like that. Corporate counter-espionage mostly. I find out if people are stealing from their companies. The work's really not so tough, because nine out of ten times, they are."
"What kind of outfits hire you?"
"You ever hear of the Internet?" It was going to get complicated after all.
"You mean all that pussy the kids have to look at in grade school and everything? Yeah, I saw a thing about that on CNN."
He's getting visibly excited over such a vile prospect, but fortunately this line of conversation is suddenly interrupted. Unfortunately for Phil Shar-pay, it is interrupted by gunfire coming from the kitchen. On hearing the shots, I swing off the barstool and slam through the kitchen door. A guy in plaid slacks and a short-sleeved white shirt is lying on the floor with several large holes on either side of a really bad tie. I know immediately it's Phil because a waitress is repeatedly screaming, "Oh no, it's Phil! Phil's been shot!" He's still conscious and groaning -- a good sign if it wasn't for the size of the pool of blood he's lying in. I wheel around and rush back out to the bar -- where I nearly trip over Cousin Frankie, done up in the worst disguise I've ever seen. Wig, false mustache, the whole bit. He must have really worked at it. No wonder I've been waiting here so fucking long.
"I found out the son of a bitch was doing Gloria." Gloria being Frankie's wife.
"Who told you?" I ask, figuring I better get a little basic information quick.
"My partner. You know, Larry. Said it's been going on over a year. That dirty cunt!" The veins are standing out in his neck. "I'll kill her!"
"One at a time. Calm down Frankie," I cajole. Seems like pretty good general-purpose advice seeing how everything's totally out of control and fundamentally unsalvageable. "Take it easy."
"Take it easy my ass!" he screams into my face. "I'm gonna swing for this!" which is probably true now that he's just implicated himself in front of fifty curious drunks at the scene of serious armed mayhem.
"Look," he says, taking an envelope out of his breast pocket -- despite the disguise, he's still wearing the same pinstripe I've always seen him in -- "here's your money. You earned it. There's another 20k in it if you can keep this quiet." And with that he bolts out the side door.
I pocket the cash. How he thinks I earned it will remain a mystery. If I can keep it quiet. Right. Clarence, who's been watching this whole exchange from a safe distance, but who by now is so wasted on shots and beers that he probably hasn't understood a word of it, comes sidling over with his mouth literally hanging open.
"Man! So this is what you do, huh?" He's clearly impressed.
"Not usually, no." I tell him. "It doesn't normally..." I search for the right words to use with Clarence... "play out this way."
"Who was that guy?"
"One of my operatives," I tell him. "Unfortunately, he got here too late to save your associate." Clarence likes this, I can tell. Associate. Yes, he nods to himself, half comatose, he is a part of these events.
"So, like, your guy knew the hit was gonna go down, right?" Everybody's seen way too much Miami Vice.
Just then the cops arrived. I was cooperative of course. I told them nothing. Still, it was after nine by the time I got out of Phil Sharpe's Happytime Lounge. Phil himself took an early quit that night. I watched as they loaded what was left of him into the ambulance. As it pulled away down South Colfax, lights flashing but no siren -- what would be the point? -- I looked up and sure enough, there were the little multicolored bubbles rising and bursting over the neon martini glass as if nothing had happened. As if nothing else had ever mattered.
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Entropy Gradient Reversals CopyLeft Christopher Locke firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.rageboy.com
"reality leaves a lot to the imagination..." John Lennon
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