Sunday, November 24, 2013

29. Treadmill

She nuzzled in his neck and whispered in his ear, "I found your notebook. It was lovely."

He could only stare at the ceiling, for a beat or two, and then roll away from her and vault off the bed, his hand giving her bottom a sharp smack as he did so. She was unfazed. He stretched a bit. His lower back was a bit stiff, and his ribs hadn't healed quite right.

Jake walked to the mirror, and gave his chin a bit of a rub. He needed a shave. How the hell could a man be as stupid at 34 as he had been at 24?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

28. Dine and Dash

Jake make a right onto 18th Street and headed for the south side of Zenith, a tough area and one he would have preferred to avoid. Still, if there was any chance the voice on the phone could be trusted, the meeting would be worth the visit.

Four blocks down the street and into the south side, he instinctively checked that his gun was in his shoulder holster. As his fingers grazed the gun, a blue sedan lurched out of a side alley. Jake had to jerk the steering wheel hard to avoid the car. His own car leapt onto the sidewalk and caught a light pole, spinning it around. Jake tensed as his car did a 180 degree turn into the thankfully empty cross street and rocked to a stop.

A quit inventory of bone and sinew proved there was no permanent damage to Jake, but he could see clearly that the right front of his car was pretty well smashed. He was going to need a tow. As his head cleared, he saw the blue sedan returning to the scene of the crime, carrying two grim looking characters that had their stared fixed on him. This was no accident. Jake felt woozy as he reached for the handle to get out of the car and look for cover, but as he did he saw a red-faced cop running up the street in his side mirror. The men in the sedan saw the cop as well, and moved on.

Jake tumbled out of the car, a couple gents in the crowd that formed helped him to sit down as the cop arrived. As the cop looked for answers, the crowd erupted with them, and it took some time to clear things up. Fortunately for Jake, a few witnesses saw the blue sedan nearly run him off the road, and it turned out the cop knew his pal Curly. As the cop got on his call box to call for a tow, Jake, feeling steadier, hoofed it across the road to a diner. He was dry, and hadn't had a bite since breakfast.

The diner was clean, even if not entirely inviting. The diners were all black, and they gave Jake a hard stare as he entered, a mix of trepidation and wonder, as most of them had witnessed the accident. The waitress behind the counter was a bit friendlier, as they usually are. She poured him a cup of coffee and Jake picked up a menu.

"What's the special today," he asked as nonchalantly as he could, eyes on the menu.

"Roast beef," shot back the waitress, a touch of nervousness in her voice.

"Yeah, that'll do fine. Thanks."

Jake put down the menu and pulled his notebook and pencil out to jot down his impression of the two men in the sedan. As he scratched away, he heard somebody behind him say, "What the hell are you doing here?"

Not wanting any trouble, he kept his eyes on his notebook. Could be two old friends or enemies. No need to get involved.

"Don't ignore me whitey."

Okay, maybe Jake was already involved. He slowly turned around on his stool to see a black man with a thin mustache in a crumpled white shirt, the sleeves rolled up, a fedora askance on his head, beads of sweat on his forehead.

"I just came in for a bite to eat. Don't want any trouble," returned Jake, fixing his eyes on the man in a hard stare. He became conscious of his gun in the shoulder holster, but didn't dare make a move for it. It was a dicey situation. Jake couldn't afford to make the first move, for it would probably bring four or five other men down on him. In a street fight, though, if you don't make the first move, you lose. He wanted to look at the faces of the other folks in the diner, read them. Was he as outnumbered as he felt? Was this guy a well-known blowhard? His hand itched to grab his gun, but his reason got the better of his fear.

The man continued to stare. He wanted a fight. Maybe he just lost his wife, maybe his job, maybe both. Maybe the last few years of his life had been a string of failures and set backs. Whatever it was, he wanted a fight and Jake was a likely target. A sitting duck on the south side. Jake concentrated on the man's eyes and on his own breathing. It finally occurred to him that the gun might get him out of trouble without leaving the holster. He slowly let his left hand drop to his side. He took the hem of his jacket between finger and thumb and drew it back, just enough to let the holster peek out.

The gun registered on the man's face immediately, and Jake could see him doing the calculus. Could I get to him before he drew the gun? Was it worth it? If he'd had a couple friends nearby, Jake would have seen him motion to them with those eyes, but they stayed on Jake, steady and ever more fearful.

"Just see that you don't make any trouble."

That was it. The man withdrew to a booth near the jukebox and Jake turned around. He hated to turn his back on the man, but he was lucky to get out of the situation as it was and didn't want to push his luck any further.

In 10 minutes, the roast beef was eaten. It was good. In five more a cab was called, and five minutes after that it arrived. Jake made a hasty retreat from the south side, little the worse for wear but exhausted and frustrated. He gave the cabby directions to his sister's house in the suburbs and leaned back, wiping his forehead with a hanky that was overdue for a rinse.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

27. Money

She scowled a bit when we entered my office/apartment. It was a little dingy, I admit, and in need of some decorating, but I didn't think it was that bad considering what I pulled down following around unfaithful husbands and scouring the city for folks who forgot to pay their debts.

"Don't like it," I asked, trying not to sound too hurt?

"Needs work. It's old."

She wasn't wrong, of course, but I wasn't entirely sure it wasn't a commentary on myself.

"You don't get rich in my line of work. Well, most of us don't, especially when you hate the work as much as I do. It'll have to do. Besides, if I made a million dollars, I wouldn't know what to do with all of it."

"You could spend it on me," she remarked, so casually I had to stop myself from laughing out loud.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

26. Lady Loves

Every poet, every artist, every writer needs a woman to pursue. Somebody just outside their grasp but not entirely out of their reach. A possibility - a potentiality. They need somebody to dream about and obsess about and churn up every uncomfortable feeling in the book - love, lust, regret, despair. These are the meat and drink of the artist, and nothing can stir them quite like a woman or a war. War often has a terrible finality to it that really puts a damper on one's artistic output, so in all cases a woman is the preferred option.

Jake's problem wasn't a lack of women in his life. There had been several. His problem was a difficulty in falling in love with them. He could never quite get over the line in terms of love - they all turned into friends he flirted with and took out to dinner and show, maybe some dancing, a few time quite a bit more. But they never quite made it deep into his soul, that secret spot where a man really lives.

Strangely enough, this is what was running through his aching head as he sat on the front stoop, his cheek already beginning to swell, his hair a tangle of odd perpenticularities. He needed to love a woman, to get out of the snooping racket and get a job that didn't involve angry husbands and lovers (well, not as many of them, anyways). Soon enough, his head cleared and he regained his composure and his hat, brushed off his pants, and took a stab at standing up. Too soon. Back on the stoop, arms back, eyes to the clouds and more ruminating on lady loves and his lack thereof.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

25. Morality

The girl talked about the insanity of war, and how, when you really got down to it, one side was no better than the other. Everybody was a murderer. Everybody was guilty. He smiled. She asked him why.

"You only believe in such moral absolutes because you've put yourself, at no cost to yourself, on the side you believe to be righteous. I was there. There was a difference. If you don't see it, you're either blind or your eyes are closed."

With that, he turned and walked away with a slight limp, a loaf of bread tucked under his arm and blocks under a beaming summer sun ahead of him.

Monday, April 15, 2013

24. The Perfect Crime

Every law-abiding citizen is just a criminal waiting for the perfect crime. Frankly, Jake had never seen a more perfect crime than that leggy blonde on the arm of one Mr. Jarvis Hollister, architect and married man about town. He watched the middle-aged Casanova in the side-view mirror as he and the secretary from the office next door took a guilty walk down the street from the cafe they'd met at to the apartment his wife didn't know he rented. At least that was Jake's theory.

Taking his notebook out of his vest pocket, he scratched down that line about "the perfect crime". It was a keeper. As he reached back into the back seat for his camera, he saw the smiling face of one of New York's finest staring back in the window. It was Eddie Meacham, a fat cop who was little more than a celebrated meter maid and poster boy for small-time police corruption.

"You're not going to park here, are you Jake? The price of a ticket is going to seriously cut into your profit margin on this job."

"Of course not, Eddie. Wouldn't think of it. I was just looking for you; wanted to buy a ticket to the policeman's ball."

Two blocks and a five-spot later (thank goodness Eddie was a pal), Jake was taking the steps up to the door of a brownstone, camera in hand, hoping to finish this job and collect his fee from Mrs. Hollister tonight. Rent was overdue, and he hadn't had a solid meal all week. Coffee and chicken soup can only take a fella so far in life.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

23. Scrum

"Sometimes, when those thoughts pop up, I feel like there's some kind of fight in my head. The destructive thoughts rushing the barrier, my mind trying to hold them back. I'm just not always sure which side I'm rooting for."

He crushed out the cigarette in the arm of the chair and stared at me, waiting for a reply or a nod. I just stared back.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

22. Love

Even when love is ill-considered, inconvenient and terribly unwise, it is still love, and love is good.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

21. Aftermath and Prelude

Into the tavern, up to the bar.

"Mike," he said with a low bark - almost a moan if such a thing is possible.

The man behind the bar gave him a look and shook his head.

"Loretta's gone again, huh?"



"No sir. My nerves call for whiskey. Five years of this shit, and I've definitely earned whiskey."


"What else?"

The bartender complied, and almost as soon as the glass hit the bar, Jake snatched it up and high-tailed it to a back booth. The bar was empty this morning except for the usual crowd, who went by the name of Abner and who had lived through a mustard gas attack during the war, much to his regret. Once in the booth, he kicked up his feet, tasted the whiskey (he hated it) and pulled a small book and a pencil out of his coat.

Twenty minutes later found the glass empty and a few pages of the notebook filled with bits and pieces about love lost and the rarity of pure and true love and all the other things that cross a poet's mind after his wife has left him for, he was assured, the last time. In fact, he actually believed that this time was the last time. He read it in her face and even now could feel the hollow ache in his heart. The ache of finality.

Another hour would pass in Pete's Place, two more glasses of whiskey, a somber conversation with Abner, who was foolish beyond his years and wonderfully sad, before Jake was ready to continue with life. He had appointment with a Mr. Brown this afternoon, which promised a fee that would help him pay for the whiskey and the office/apartment and his secretary's salary, such as it was. Jake's heart wasn't in it, but his stomach was insistent.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

20. Back and Forth

You beat yourself up over talking too much - and then tell yourself you shouldn't feel bad about who you are and fuck people who don't like it - and then you realize you don't want to be alone - but isn't being alone better than feeling like a fool - no, it isn't - but ...

To love and be loved. That's the goal. Tough to get there.

Monday, February 18, 2013

19. Sharing

Jake was spent before he knew it, but she wasn't finished with him. He threw himself back on the bed, sweating and happy, and she climbed on top and had her way with him. That was when she frightened him. He liked her - really like her - but looking up into her flushed face, he could see that even though her eyes were closed, they were looking far away. She wasn't with him now - he didn't know where she was. She was no more his than Angela was.

But when she was finally sated, she snuggled close to him in bed and kissed his face and whispered sweet nothings in his ear and looked into his eyes and smiled. She was his, but he was going to have to share her with something or someone - past, present or future, he didn't know. Still, they went downstairs to the diner and talked and laughed and he felt certain that he loved her and she loved him. Maybe it was the big set-up, but what the hell. You need love like air or water.

Friday, February 15, 2013

18. Community Service

As cars whizzed by the on highway, Ralph McGubbin could have been staring at the thousand sparkling motes of light reflected on bits of broken bottles on the side of the road and imaging them as the stars in the sky or thousands of flash bulbs popping at a Hollywood gala or even the sparkle in the eye of a beautiful woman. But he wasn't, because he couldn't, and that was among the reasons he was standing on the side of the road in a day-glo vest collecting garbage. He'd never had much imagination, or any desire beyond what his heart desired at this very moment. Worst of all, what he wanted, he grabbed, like an infant.

There were six other Ralph McGubbin's on the side of the road taking a half-hearted stab at telling society they were sorry (they weren't), as well as a Bob Trout. Bob was able to see those bits of bottle as a galaxy of lights, and the juxtoposition of Shelia Frank against those glinting lights and the mauve mountains beyond struck him as especially lovely. Sheila was, in his opinion, too pretty to be collecting garbage on the side of the road, despite what she had done to that unlucky pedestrian, and as he mechanically picked up discarded cans and hamburger wrappers, he plotted his next move.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

17. The Bullet

The well-groomed man lie on the floor, leaking life, eyelids flickering, lips quivering. He was going to die, and nothing in the world would prevent it. Jake couldn't help but feel sorry for him. He took the bullet for the lady in the black coat, the lady whose face remained a mystery. Some detective he was - didn't remember to get a good look at her face.

It got Jake thinking. A friend of his once told him the Jake was the only guy he knew who would take a bullet for someone. Jake had never had to test that theory, so he didn't know if it was true. In fact, he'd never even thought about it, but apparently his friend had, and it stuck with him and made him proud in a way. Over the years, he'd never had to take a bullet, but he'd had to take lots of other things, and it always made him proud. But, walking on the shady side of 40, he now realized the one problem for people who take bullets. Nobody takes bullets for them. When you're always taking what other folks have to dish out, you tend to attract the dishers, not the dishees. That little blonde waiting outside in the car was probably another dishee. It was just a matter of time.

As that thought echoed in his skull, he snapped to attention and got down to the business of searching the soon-to-be stiff.

Monday, February 11, 2013

16. Engine

I'm an engine

People use me to get where they want to go

They give me what I need to move

When I'm fast and strong, they love me

When I'm slow and weak, I'm a piece of shit

When I cost too much to fix, they say "Too bad - it was a good little engine" and they find a new one

A new engine to get them where they want to go

I don't want to be an engine anymore

And I don't want anyone else to be my engine

15. Living Vicariously

Over coffee.

"Have you ever had one of the those days where you longed to hear somebody's fantastic news? Just wanted to bask in the light of somebody's day - share in the wonder for a moment - like your own day needed a jump start?"


"No. Is that all? I'm about to go on break, so I'm going to leave the bill with you - you can pay up front."

"Yes. Thank you. Going on break, huh?"

14. Reflection in a Bowl of Soup

You think the trick is getting somebody to tell you they love you. Earning it, inspiring it - whatever. That's the prize in all the movies and books - the moment when the words pass from her lips and her soul through your ears and to your soul. That's the end of the story, whether they all live happily ever after or better to have loved and lost - whatever the future, the story ends with "I love you."

They're wrong.

The words have to come. The eyes aren't enough, the bed isn't enough. It has to be spoken. But it has to be believed. Words and eyes and the bedroom are easy. Love is not. It's rare. You have to believe they love you. So what if they do love you, but you can't believe it? Or what if you believe it, but it isn't true? How could you know?

That was what I thought, staring into a bowl of chicken soup, following the path of a bit of carrot as it circumnavigated it's little world. Do I believe it? Can I believe it?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

13. Seconds Count

The balding man with the bad hair looked out across the bay, the tears welling in his eyes blurring his vision and giving him the impression that the buildings on the other side of the water were swaying and dancing. He used his thumb and forefinger to wipe his eyes and then pinch the bridge of his nose - the universal sign of a man relieving stress - to cover up for the tear-wipe, but it was obvious enough. Jake took a step forward.

"Where's her body, Stan?"

"It's Stanley, not Stan."

And then he leaped into the water - suicide, escape - hard to say. Jake took a shuffle towards the edge of the pier and quickly realized he wasn't going to follow, so he hightailed it for a phone. He had his man for a second there, but the police weren't likely to believe it. A quick phone call, and then across town. There was one loose end left, and if he was quick, he might just grab it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

12. A Flash of Leg

He only saw a flash of leg, for an instant, as he entered the apartment building (tenement was more like it). The back of the knee, a bit of calf, a spiked heel - too shapely for this place, the shoe too expensive. Even if it wasn't suspicious, though, the momentum of that leg would have dragged him around the corner. Curious, impetuous, horny; whichever, it was, he bit.

He edged around the corner in the most nonchalant yet cautious way he could figure and saw an empty hallway flanked by a dozen grungy doors emblazoned with number plates that might once have been brass, but had long since given up and adopted the uniform dingy brown common to the bad side of town. No sound of a door closing - she either hadn't used one or was on to him and closed it quietly - no light from beneath any of the doors. Nothing. He was going to have to move from this spot, and figured a jaunt outside was better than being ambushed inside.

Past the mailboxes and out the front door to the drizzle and grey - every window shut tight, no sign of a skirt. Inside then - nobody in heels like that could shimmy out a window that quickly. Inside was the ticket, but when he turned to get back on the trail of his quarry, he saw that grim, flat face again, this time looking out the window instead of from above him as he lie flat on his back in the alley. Not wanting a repeat of that unfortunate scene, he turned on his heels and beat a hasty retreat to his car. Guns weren't an option here - it turn into Custer's last stand. Time to file this away for future use and pursue another loose string - the Chinese laundry.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

11. Shenanigans

As he turned the corner, Jake saw the two punks and a girl, maybe seventeen, blonde (dye job, and not too bad) - very attractive. The boys were looking for trouble, and he had an appointment to keep, so he figured on playing it safe. They might be punks, but there were two of them, and you didn't have to be a genius or a he-man to stick a switchblade in a guy's ribs. Playing it safe was the way to go, and he would have if it weren't for the sidelong glance the girl sent his way.

"What's a girl like you doing with these chuckleheads? You can do better, you should trade up."

That did it. The short one was going to be the first to speak and the first to pull a knife. He had the most to prove. His friend was tall and lanky and looked nervous - just along for the ride.

"Fuck you."

It was the short one - big surprise. He continued, "you got any smokes?"


Shorty flexed his fingers, arched his eyebrows and shrugged in a bad imitation of a humble beggar. He tried to force a smile - he'd seen too many movies this kid.

"So, can we maybe bum a few?"


He was pissed - he was an easy target - and Jake could tell he was just about to pull the knife like a big boy. His pal still looked nervous - knew what was coming. Now was the time to act, so Jake sent his balled fist slamming into the tall one's jaw. He dropped like a bag of wet cement. Shorty was taken off guard and forgot his lines, so Jake tried a little improv and broke his nose. While the little creep leaned against the brick wall and bled, Jake gave the girl a smile.

"My car's down the street. Why don't you come with me? We can have a bite."

She blinked, tried to remain calm and composed, but she was all pins and needles. Just the same, she took a hesitant step towards Jake, then another, and as he turned she matched his stride and locked arms with him. They covered a few yards before she spoke.

"What do you expect from me?"

"Your eternal gratitude, if you play it smart."

Monday, January 14, 2013

10. Better

"I could never get over the tooth-sucking. Drove me nuts," as he topped off the cup.

"No, you could never get over the fact that she was better than you - heart and soul," came the reply from behind.

He turned around, hinting at a grin, "Wha ...? Fuck you."

"Fuck yourself. She's fabulous. I was always jealous. I'm still jealous. She was better than you," they were walking now, "and you couldn't stand to admit it, so you found a reason to get out. I don't blame you, really," out the door now, on the sidewalk, "you would have always been on the bottom in that relationship. Nothing worse than being beneath somebody who's not only better than you, but it better than you because she'd never see herself as above you - never more than an equal."

"You don't - really don't - know what the fuck you're talking about."

In the shelter of a burger joint's door - "Sure I do. She was better than me, too, but I would have changed. She'd be worth it. Looking into those eyes every day would make it worth it. Those eyes held everything - like fire. Everything."

With the smell of fresh french fries in his nose - "Yeah. They did. Fuck."

9.Sober Love

"I don't tell people I love them while I'm drunk, because I don't love people when I'm drunk. I reserve that pleasure for when I'm sober, or I don't love them at all."

"Ah. Anyone in particular you love at the moment?"

"You, of course."

"At first sight?" - this was meant to be funny, he thought.

"No." - an honest reply.

A moment of silence.

"It was worse than that. I liked you at first sight. Like is the seed from which love grows. No like - no love. Maybe lust, but never love. I liked you at first sight, and now I love you."

"Oh." - she was a bit stunned or put off or disinterested - he wasn't sure.

"I know it's a shock," he lied, "I'm sorry", he lied again.

8. Floater

On the third of December, she swallowed her pride, put on the dress and went over to the yellow ranch-style on the quarter acre. His car was in the driveway, so she walked to the front door and rang the bell. No answer.

It was hard enough to do this, but he had to make it harder. Dick. She waited a few seconds longer than she wanted to - too easy to walk away, self-respect and all that. Finally, she gave up and walked back to the car. Another sip of the Starbucks, tame an errant hair, check the lipstick. Fuck - why not drive away?

She got back out of the car, hesitated on the driveway, did a little shuffle step she shouldn't have attempted in heels, but no harm donw, and went to the side gate. She could faintly hear the sound of the oldies on a radio. The gate swung open, so might as well go around.

Afterward, she remembered the clip-clop of her heels on the pool deck, and the cold, sick feeling when she saw his body floating in the pool.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

7. Kipling

"The female of the species is more deadly ...", he started.

"Stop quoting Kipling, Trevor," interrupted the lady with whom he was sharing breakfast. Her voice was soft and scolding, motherly almost. He stopped, and nothing more was said, but his attitude towards her had been moved, shifted, deflected you might say from a path that could only end in love to one that must end in loathing. It would be some time coming, but that was it. Trevor could never love Katherine now, and the fact of his impending wedding to her and his abiding cowardice promised a tragedy.

6. The Dame Without Mercy

He lay there in the bed, as still as he could manage, his breath hot on the pillow, until he was certain the noises he heard could be nothing other than a foot compressing gravel and a slow, suspicious breathing. As quickly as he could, he snapped his head up and aimed it at the window, but his quarry was quicker, and he could see nobody.

He vaulted out of bed, gracefully, if it was to be told, and scurried to the window, the thought that he'd left his revolver on the bed stand immediately striking him, but it was dismissed in the mad dash to know.

The window, unfortunately, was kissed with frost. He would have to venture outdoors. Turning to retrieve his revolver and clothes, he was shocked to see the woman with whom he was sharing the bed, the woman he had dragged across half a continent and on whom he has poured as much affection as he was capable, aiming the revolver at his heart.

For a man who fancies himself a detective and a keen observer of people, this was a double shock. A pathetic, "why?" stumbled out of his mouth as she pulled the trigger.

5. Tigers

"Once a man has a tiger by the tail, all the reflection in the world about how he got himself into that situation isn't going to get him out of it. The past is meaningless. It's the future. He needs a plan."

"It sounds to me," she said, a catch in her throat, a small but perceptible wavering in her voice, "that what he needs is help."

"Yeah, but who could help?" he asked - or maybe he didn't ask as much as he mused, a touch of defeat or fatigue in his voice.

"The tiger, for one, if she was so inclined."

His eyes brightened for a moment, and then settled back again under that sort of mist they'd been hiding behind for the last week. He either thought it was a stupid plan, or knew he hadn't the energy to pull it off.

4. Risk

"I know it sounds stupid, but I often feel like I'm alone - in the important ways. I guess it's my own fault."

"How so?"

"I don't know. I always feel like it's my own fault. I try to give, but ..."

"You try?"

"Well, I do. I get things in return, but not always what I want; what I need. I feel trapped sometimes. If I ask for what I want, will I stop getting anything?"

"It's a risk."


Friday, January 11, 2013

3. Trust

"I think he trusts me," she said, an errant hair jabbing at her left eye, "but what choice does he have. He can't live without me."

"Should he trust you?"

"No. But in a good way."

2. Finger Tip

The moment my finger tip brushed her hip as she glided past me, I knew I’d made a terrible mistake. It was four years ago to the day that I fell in love with her – my last terrible mistake but the most honest mistake I had ever made in my life.

I couldn’t convince myself that it was an accident – well, it was almost an accident – but maybe she wouldn’t know. Of course, I wanted her to know, or at least notice and feel something. I wanted her face to betray something, but it didn’t.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

1. The Swordsman

"What kind of swordsman doesn't own a sword?"

"A very poor one, madame."

"You lack money?"

"Yes, but that's not why I lack a sword."

"Skill, perhaps? A lack of skill?"

"Again, yes, but that is not the reason why."

"Why, then?"

"I lack conviction. Without conviction, there is no point to a sword."

"You lack sense."

"Sense, conviction, it's all the same."

With that, she walked away, pleased to have left him in her past.