REGARDING THE BROMBERG MATTER
Cullin Morrissey stared blankly out the streaked and dirty window of his second-floor office. Terre Haute in the dead of winter is every shade of grey. Even the snow fell dirty as the coal ash spewed up to the sky by the city was thrown back as a murky sleet. And it seemed to Morrissey that all his life had been about one kind of dirt or another. Dirty laundry. Dirty secrets. Dirty lies. A long list of dirty things he had seen working so many years in Vice. And then the Robbery division, and on to Homocide. You have to work your way up to the dirtiest darkest parts of life. And even now, retired from the force, he remained a digger of dirt. A private dick. The ancient iron radiator in his office spewed and coughed a puddle of water around its ornate feet. The clanking of the steam pipes throughout the building on a winter's day was a kind of music that rose and fell in movements as the furnace in the basement burned low, and then was re-stoked again and again by some nameless soot-covered soul with dark and sullen eyes who lived down there.
So, it was a pleasant distraction when the one appointment on Morrissey's book showed up at ten sharp. A lanky young guy who looked to be about 19 or 20. He took the seat in front of the cluttered desk and clasped his hands together.
"What brings you here today, Mister...?" Morrissey said flatly.
"You can call me Eric," he said. Morrissey nodded. "I want to get to the bottom of something that's been on my mind now a long time," he said.
"The first 15 minutes is free, son. So, let's hear it."
"It's about a murder - suicide that happened in 1939 in Cuyahoga County," he said.
"1939? That's some 16 or 17 years ago," Morrissey said, shaking a Camel from the pack, and lighting it up. He had a vague recollection of an incident that made the news, but it was summarily dismissed as a tragic case of a family dispute turned deadly.
"So, what makes you so curious about something that happened so long ago?" he asked.
"Well," Eric replied, "That was my mother and my father, and my sister. She was 13 at the time. I guess I was three. I don't have any memory of it. I didn't even know I was adopted until about two years ago. So far nobody seems to have any details about what happened or why. I guess that's what I'd like you to find out."
Suddenly, a light bulb went off in Morrissey's head.
"So, you're the Bromberg baby? The one that survived?"
"Yes sir. But like I say, I didn't know it until a couple of years ago, so I'd like to know what really happened."
To Morissey's eye, Eric Bromberg didn't look like a guy with much money, but then, he was a dick with not much work. He took out a tablet and a pen from his desk drawer.
"Ok, then," Morrissey said, glancing at the clock. "Let's get started."
A PENNY FOR HIS THOUGHTS
Morrissey walked the several blocks to O'Brian's pub. The icy blowing rain was a pain in the ass, but it would make his usual bourbon taste all the better. Besides, the wad of greenbacks Bromberg gave him was burning a hole in his pocket, and he owed Doyle a couple of stiff ones.
Jamie Doyle was bellied up to the bar in his usual place along with a young redhead that looked half his age. Doyle was retired now from the force and spent a good part of his pension drinking off 23 years of working Homicide.
"Cully!" he shouted in a wet raspy voice as I walked toward him. "Come on over here."
Morrissey pulled up a stool and called to O'Brian behind the bar.
"Get Jamie and his lady friend another round." He smiled and tipped his hat to the redhead who looked to be a curvaceous young thing. Doyle wrapped his arm around the girl's shoulder. "This here is my niece Penny. She's come over from Toledo looking for work." She reached a slender hand out across Doyle's big belly.
"Penny O'Conner," she said with a smile. Morrissey took her hand, noting how warm it was, and how she wasn't sporting a ring, and how manicured her candy apple red nails were.
"Cullin Morrissey," he said, suddenly absorbed by her blue eyes and the lipstick on her cigarette as she brought it to her lips. Doyle slapped him on the back.
"Cully here, is a gumshoe, Penny. A damn good one too," he slobbered. Penny nodded and flashed a pearly white smile. "You've got lipstick on your teeth, honey," Doyle said to her.
"Oops," Penny laughed, brushing across her uppers with a fingertip. "I'll be right back," she said, grabbing her purse. She headed off to the lady's room. Morrissey gave Doyle a nudge with his elbow.
"Is she really your niece?"
Doyle laughed with a sputter and wiped his mouth.
"Hell, yes," he said, "What were you thinking?"
"Well," Morrissey answered clicking his glass to Doyle's, "You've introduced me to a lot of your so-called nieces over the years, and most of them weren't." He tossed his drink back and motioned to O'Brian for another.
"I suppose I did have me a reputation for robbing the cradle in my day, but Penny here is my sister's daughter. She is a little bundle though, isn't she?" Morrissey nodded, looking over at Penny strolling out of the lady's room swinging her purse and stopping at the juke box.
"Nice legs," Morrissey said under his breath.
"I'm gonna have a hell of a time keeping her out of trouble in this town," Doyle whispered out of the side of his mouth. "Whatever happened to that gal you had working for you, by the way?"
"Allison? She ran off with one of my clients last year," Morrissey shrugged.
"Well, hell," Doyle said, "Why don't you take Penny on? She told me she could type. And you'd be doing me a favor by looking out for her."
"I don't know, Doyle, Morrissey said, "Money's kind of tight these days."
"Hell, Cully. She wouldn't want much. She just needs a starting place somewhere. I'm covering her rent over at the Biltmore 'til she gets on her feet." Penny walked back toward them as the juke box kicked on. Gale Storm singing 'Dark Moon'. Doyle pushed back from the bar.
"I gotta go drain that damn lizard again," he said, stumbling off to the bathroom. Penny sat down and crossed her legs then dug into her purse for her cigarettes. Morrissey pulled his lighter out of his coat pocket and she leaned toward him with her cigarette dangling from her lips.
"So, Penny," he said, striking the lighter with his thumb and watching her take a long draw, "Your uncle tells me you are looking for work."
"Yeh, I was thinking of working the bar here for O'Brian, but my uncle said, 'Over my dead body!'." She said it in a funny imitation of Doyle's voice, and laughed.
"Can you type?" Morrissey asked, glancing down at her pampered fingers.
"Uh huh," she nodded, bringing her hand up toward her face and studying her nails. Morrissey took the opportunity of her distraction to give her a quick up and down. He wondered if he would really be able to get anything done with a pair of legs like those walking around the office? He was a bit nervous about taking her on, but there's something about blue-eyed redheads that always seemed to bring out a certain craziness in him.
THE NEW ARRANGEMENT
It took a few days for Morrissey to get used to having a woman around the office again. He had become comfortable just being his slobbish self, scratching his balls whenever he felt like it, and other such simple luxuries. No more sitting on the toilet with the door open and reading the paper for an hour. But on the other hand, she was always there early, and by the time he waltzed in she already had the coffee going and was dusting his desk. He did have to gently chide her though when she began compulsively organizing the files and papers he had strewn about the desktop. She was quite naive about the genius of the clutter.
"You see Penny, when I have my papers all piled about every which way, it makes me look like a busy man. It impresses people who come in to request my services."
"Should I make my desk look messy too?" she asked, glancing through the doorway into the front room.
"No. Your desk is the first thing the client sees. It should look very efficient and organized. And, of course you want to be pleasant and courteous to the client, and no flirting with the client."
"Oh, I'd never," she said earnestly. He smiled at her and nodded.
"That's what my last secretary said. "Ok," he continued, "So you can ask them if they would like a cup of coffee. Tell them Mr. Morrissey will be with them shortly. Then you can buzz me and tell me the client is here. I'll say send them in, and then I'll probably ask you to get such and such a file. See how it works?"
"I think so," she replied with a smile. "Will there be anything else, Mister Morrissey?"
"Look," he said. "You can call me Cully if its just you and me here. But otherwise, its Mister Morrissey, and I'll refer to you as Miss O'Conner."
"Anything else, Mister Cully?"
"Not, Mister Cully, just Cully."
"Yes, sir," she answered.
"And don't call me sir except when we are in the presence of a client."
"Okey dokey, Cully," she smiled.
"And one more thing, Penny. Do you know how to use a fire arm?"
"You mean I'm going to have to shoot people?"
"Look, Penny," Morrissey said, as he sat down behind his desk. "I promised your uncle I would look after you. Hopefully you wouldn't ever have to shoot anyone, but it doesn't hurt for a gal to carry a little protection in her purse."
"I can take care of myself," she said, "I'm not just some helpless little girl."
"All I'm saying Penny, is that you don't know Terre Haute. In fact there's some things about this city you shouldn't know. So, tomorrow afternoon, I want you to go over to the shooting range at the Police Academy. Ask to see Billy Scriver. Tell him you are working for me, and that you need a quick course on hand guns."
"Yes, sir," she replied, "I mean Cully." She turned to go back to her desk. "And Penny, see if you can dig out that Bromberg file."
"You got it, Cully," she said over her shoulder. He looked at her ass as she left. Her snug black skirt. Her black nylons.
"Careful, Cully," he said to himself. "She's just a kid. And Doyle's niece, at that."
ACCORDING TO DOYLE
Morrissey gave Penny a twenty and let her off early to go shop for the kinds of things a secretary needs. Typewriter ribbon, pens, a couple of note pads. Paper clips. He told her to get herself a donut too.
"Really?" she said, "What kind should I get?"
"I don't know, Penny, what kind do you like?"
"Chocolate is my favorite," she answered.
"Ok, get yourself a chocolate donut." He fished a couple more dollars out of his pocket. "Here. Get yourself two donuts." She seemed happy as a lark as she waltzed out the door.
Doyle had his big pot belly parked down at O'Brian's bar when Morrissey walked in.
"How's my Penny doing?" he said.
"She's getting the hang of things," Morissey answered.
"You know, Morrissey," Doyle said, "You probably should teach her something about handling a gun."
"I'm on that already," he said, sloshing the ice around in his whiskey.
"I'm sending her over to Billy Scriver tomorrow."
"Yeh," Doyle said, "Billy will teach her the ropes."
"Doyle, do you remember much about that Bromberg incident some years back?"
"Do I remember it? Hell, I was the first one on the scene. I wish I had gone fishing instead of walking into that house that day. It was one of the worst messes I've ever seen, and I've seen a few." Morrissy waved to O'Brian and got them another round.
"I saw the lab photos, it looked pretty bad," Morrissey said.
"I remember the smell, more than anything," Doyle muttered. "Jake Bromberg was sitting on the couch with a bloody gun in his hand, with a good part of his head blown off. The better part of his brain was splattered all over the couch. The little girl was face down in her bedroom, shot in the back of the head. But, the real nightmare was in the kitchen. Roberta Bromberg, shot three times in the gut, was still bleeding out onto the floor. But, here's the clincher, Morrissey. There was a child, practically a baby, laying all curled up on his mother's bloody body and sucking his thumb."
"Eric Bromberg," Morrissey said. "Here's the thing, Doyle. He's a young man now, and he's hired me to find out more about what happened."
"I'll be damned," Doyle muttered. "Of course back then he was too young to know how to tell anybody what happened. It looked like an open and shut case of murder-suicide. But, the thing that still puzzles me today is how come the old man didn't put a bullet in the boy."
"Maybe he was hiding when it happened," Morrissey replied.
"Maybe," Doyle muttered. "Does he remember anything about it?"
"Not a thing," he answered. "Just what what the folks that adopted him told him, and some stuff he's read."
"I guess I'd want to know the truth too," Doyle said, slamming down his last drink. Morrissey followed Doyle home that night because he seemed pretty plastered. He had to honk his horn at him twice for running stop signs. Doyle stuck his arm out the window and gave him the finger both times. Morrissey's own head was spinning but he got his drunken ex-boss home. He remembered working under him some years back. He was a force to be reckoned with then. He watched the old fart clinging with both hands to the iron railing as he teetered up the steps one by one to his apartment down on lower 3rd street. And he wondered if there was more to the story Doyle wasn't telling him.
PENNY'S NEW TOY
Penny sat down in the chair next to Morrissey's desk to go over the Bromberg file with him. She had on a baby blue sweater and had a little baby blue patent leather purse to go with it. And then there was the string of pearls and the snug black skirt. "Penny?" he said.
"Uh huh," she said, arranging her note pad on her lap.
"You seem to have a nice sense of fashion,...."
"Oh," she replied, "Do you like this sweater? I just bought it yesterday."
"Yes," he said, "Very nice of course, and the pearls too."
"Oh, thanks. My mother gave them to me."
"But, here's the thing, Penny. I think its great for you to be dolled up around the office. It's good for business. I mean, I'm not trying to turn you into some kind of sex object, but, a client comes in, they are greeted by an attractive well-heeled young woman, and that makes a nice impression."
"Oh, thanks," she said, brushing her hand along the hip of her skirt.
"So, that's all fine as far as that goes," he continued. "But, there are times I may need to take you with me out in the field. And when you're out in the field the last thing you want to do is to draw a lot of attention. Field work is a low profile kind of game. See what I'm saying?"
"I guess so," she answered. "So what should I wear then?"
"Well, you don't want to look too important. And you don't want to look like you are out for a night on the town. You wanna just sorta blend in with the scenery. Maybe jeans, a jacket, tennis shoes.."
"So, we'll be sort of like spies?"
Morrissey nodded. "Yes, something like that."
"Oh, I almost forgot!" she said, grabbing her baby blue purse. She stuck her hand down into it, and yanked out a .38 snub-nose. Mrrissey instinctively grabbed it out of her hand with a quick swing of his arm.
"Penny! Don't ever just pull a gun out like that! Not unless you are planning on using it!" He looked at the shiny chrome gun. "A pearl handle?!"
"I thought it was pretty," she said. "The man in the store said he thought it would be perfect for me."
"Oh, I'm sure he did. He probably thought it looked nice with your necklace," Morrissey said with a sarcastic smile He laid it down on the desk and opened the drawer. "Pretty doesn't always work in this business, Penny. Pretty can get you killed." He reached into the drawer and laid his gun out on the desk. "What you need is something like this. Look at the difference, Penny. It's a .38, almost the same as yours. Except notice that mine is a dull dark grey gun metal, and the hand grip is a flat black. Yours is flashy. It sticks out like a sore thumb. Look how all that chrome catches the light. I saw the gleam of that gun before you had it halfway out of your purse. It's those little split-second edges that sometimes make a big difference when you are face to face with a bad situation. Do you get what I'm saying?" She nodded with a pout. "So, I want you to take this little fashion accessory back to wherever you got it, and get one like mine, ok?" She put her gun back in her purse rather sheepishly.
"I just thought it was pretty, that's all," she said.
"Yes, its pretty, keep it if you want, but when you're with me carry one like this," he said, holding his gun up, and then returning it to the drawer. "And remember what I told you. Pretty can work to your advantage in some situations, but there are other times when it can just get you into trouble." She nodded, but Morrissey could tell she was somewhat deflated by his scolding. "Look, Penny," he said, "I'm just trying to look after you a bit like your uncle asked me to, ok? Look, let me show you a little trick every gal should know. He picked her purse up from the desk. " Ok. So, you're walking down the street with your little purse on your shoulder." He stood and slung the purse strap onto his shoulder. Penny put her hand to her mouth to stifle a laugh. "I know it looks ridiculous, but pay attention, Penny. So, you're just out shopping for some jeans, and a jacket, maybe some tennis shoes, and you see someone coming at you, and he looks scary or threatening. So, what are you going to do? Pull your gun out and wave it around? No. He may not be a menace, after all. Maybe he was just born ugly, and can't help it."
Penny put her hand to her mouth again as he enacted the scenario. He was getting into character now and enjoying hamming it up a bit to get her attention. He walked across the office floor. "So here I am. Little Penny strolling down the sidewalk, thinking about that dress I saw the day before and hoping it was still there, because I just got paid by Mr. Morrissey for doing such a great job. And then this real crumb steps out of the alley. I fluff my hair and pretend not to notice, and I slowly slip my other hand down in my purse to find my gun exactly where I put it. The creep is walking toward me. I pause to look in a store window....do you have good perpheral vision?"
"What's that?" Penny said.
"Can you see out of the corners of your eyes?"
"I think so," she said, shifting her big blue orbs from one side of her face to the other.
"No," Morrissey said, "Look straight at me. Don't move your eyes."
"Ok," she giggled.
"Right here, Penny," he said, pointing at a spot between his eyes. She giggled again. "Ok, so without looking away, tell me what you can see in the corner of your eyes."
She looked at him and pointed with her left hand.
"I see that the window over there is dirty." And then she pointed with her right.
"And we are almost out of toilet paper in the bathroom." Morrissey looked at her knowing she was right.
"Miss O'Conner," he said, in a deeper voice. "Take a note. We need to get the windows cleaned, and we need some more toilet paper."
"Yes, sir," she said, looking down at the tablet on her lap. After a second or two of looking at those legs of hers again, he said,
"Ok, let's get back to the situation. I'm standing in front of the store window, but I am watching creepo with my peripheral vision. He is slowing down as he approaches. Maybe he walks on by. Or maybe he says,
'Hey baby', or, 'Can you spare me some change?' So I say, 'Get lost,' or 'Down on your luck?' It depends on the way it feels in that moment." Penny nodded, and he could tell she was getting into it, even though he knew he looked ridiculous sporting a baby blue purse. "Of course, Mr. Bad Man doesn't know I already have my finger on the trigger of my gun, just waiting to hear what he might say next. Maybe he walks on by. Or maybe he says 'Just give me your wallet', or maybe he flashes a blade. What are you going to do, Penny?"
"Pull my gun out?" Penny answered, on the edge of her seat.
"No. You, just turn and smile. You've already got your finger on the trigger. You just pull it."
"You mean right through my purse?" Penny said with a pained expression.
Morrissey nodded. "Would you rather have a hole in your purse or a hole in your head?," he said as he sat down behind his desk. "Now scoot over here, and let's look over this Bromberg file."
PENNY ON THE FLOOR
"Penny," Morrissey said, drumming his fingers on the manila folder on his desk. "Police work, and detective work can be a pretty ugly way to spend a day. Some people aren't cut out for it. Have you ever watched anyone die?"
"Not really," she replied, "I saw Elvis die in 'Love Me Tender'. It nearly broke my heart. Of course, I know he didn't really die. I don't know what I would do if Elvis really died."
"The real thing isn't like the movies, Penny. This Bromberg case", Morrissey said, patting the folder with his hand, "Is a case in point, and I worry whether you can handle crap like this."
"Well," she said, "If I can watch Elvis die right in front of my eyes, I guess I can deal with it." He drummed his fingers on the file, glancing over at her.
"What's that perfume you're wearing?" he said.
"Jasmine. Do you like it?"
"Yes," he answered, opening the folder.
"Oh, that poor man," Penny said, looking down at the grainy black and white photo of Jake Bromberg on the couch. She bent her face down over the picture. She pointed to the couch, "Looks like he threw up all over the place."
"That's not vomit, Penny. That's pieces of his brain." Morrissey saw the blur of her hands flying up, and then she crashed to the floor in a dead faint. Never made a sound. Just out like a light.
He knelt down and grabbed her face.
"Penny? Oh, crap." He shook her a bit by her shoulders, and slapped her face a few times. "Penny?!" He bent down to listen for a heartbeat, his eyes going to her skirt half up her thighs. The baby blue garter belt tugging on her nylons and pinching into a milky white flesh. 'Doyle is going to kill me' was one of his first thoughts. He pulled her up into his arms. "Penny?"
Poor Penny. Morrissey might as well have screwed her in the office bathroom. That would have been better than showing her that photo. All the innocent tenderness of Elvis's slow and dreamy dying was blown away like the left side of Jake Bromberg's head. Penny's eyes opened.
"You blacked out," he said, helping her up. He set her chair upright, and closed the folder. "Maybe its better you didn't see these," he said.
"No, I'm ok," she said pulling at the folder, "I want to see what happened." She began flipping through the lab photos as Morrissey told her about the scene as Doyle had described it to him.
"Damn! That was a nice dress," she said, looking at the picture of Roberta Bromberg on the kitchen floor. Never mind that two thirds of it was soaked in blood. As for Morrissey, he was smelling Jasmine, and wondering what he had gotten himself into. Penny was becoming a mystery unto herself.
"So, our client is the baby they found?" she asked.
"Yes," Morrissey said, lighting a cigarette. "Except he is 20 years old now and wants to know what really happened. Why don't you take this file and read through the police reports, the lab data, and news clippings. There's some photos from the family album too. See if anything sticks out in your mind. Anything that doesn't seem quite right, or is too ambiguous. Penny went back to her desk and Morrissey stared out the window thinking about that image of Penny's legs, and then shook it off.
Penny came to the door with the folder.
"Would it be ok if I took this home tonight to study it?" He nodded.
"Just don't lose it. If anything happens to it, we'll be really screwed."
"I'll take good care of it," she said, turning to leave.
"And don't show any of it to anyone else, it's confidential," he added.
"I won't," she said.
"And Penny, we're going to be out poking around tomorrow, so dress appropriately."
"Like, incognito, right?"
He looked out the window and down to the street. Penny was crossing in the middle of the block. A car slowed down and honked. The guy waved at her. She waved back.
"Oh great, Penny," he mumbled to himself, "Why don't you just throw the jerk a kiss?"
He thought about those legs again. Those legs are trouble waiting to happen. Trouble, trouble, trouble.
DEVIL IN THE DETAILS
When Morrissey walked into the office that next day, the coffee pot was going and Penny was singing 'Dark Moon' in the bathroom. She came out buttoning the top of her jeans.
"What do you think?" she said, gesturing at her outfit, "Army surplus." She was wearing a faded black tee shirt and a green army field jacket that came down over her hips, and a pair of brown leather infantry boots.
"Not bad," Morrissey said, looking her up and down. "And did you swap the .38 out?"
"Uh huh, and check out this purse." It was a plain brown leather. "And it doesn't have a flap over, so I can reach right down and get my gun in a snap."
"Good girl," he said, as she laid the Bromberg file on my desk.
She leaned forward over the desk and opened the folder.
"Check this out," she said, pointing to a small color snapshot. It was a picture of Jake Bromberg playing catch with his daughter in the yard. She tapped on the photo with her well-manicured nail. "He was a lefty, a southpaw. He's wearing the ball glove on his right hand, and the ball is in his left." I nodded. She slid the photo aside, and tapped her finger on the photo of Bromberg dead on the couch. "So, this looks funny," she said, "He looks right-handed here. Seems like he would have used his left hand to shoot himself in the head."
"Holy crap!" Morrissey muttered, picking the photo up. The gun was in Bromberg's right hand.
"Why didn't I see that before?"
"So, do I get a raise?" she said, smiling at him.
"I'll buy your lunch, how's that?" Morrissey answered.
He splashed off at the bathroom sink still asking himself how he could have missed that little detail. Bromberg was left handed. "I must be slipping," he mumbled. He reached for the bathroom towel and wound up with a bra in his hand instead. That's when he noticed the skirt, the blouse, and the panties. It occurred to him that Penny must have been changing her clothes when he came in earlier. He gingerly put the bra back, and glanced at the panties. White satin. "Trouble, trouble, trouble..," he muttered to himself.
DOWN AT THE DINER
"So where are you taking me for lunch?" Penny asked, as they climbed into the seat of the Dodge.
"We'll just run down to the diner on 37th street," Morrissey said, as he pulled away from the curb. He had caught a glimpse of her ankle as she stepped into the car. Black nylons and combat boots. Nice touch. He re-traced her outfit in my mind. Army jacket...braless in a black tee....jeans....no panties....presumably a garter belt...nylons...combat boots. "Nice touch," he accidentally said aloud.
"What is?" Penny asked, looking over at him.
"Oh, um...about Bromberg being a southpaw," he said. He glanced over at her, his eyes going uncontrollably to the way that tee-shirt draped down over her..."My heater's not working," he said, looking away. "Maybe you should button that jacket up."
"I'm not cold," she replied.
"Well, maybe you should button it up anyway," he said, as they pulled up to the diner.
"I'm not a little girl," she complained.
"That's my point exactly," he said, opening the car door. "Let's go eat."
Trixie, a little grey-haired old lady, waved a dish rag at me as we took a table. "Be with you in a minute, Cully," she said.
"Trixie's been here since the '30s," Morrissey said to Penny, handing her a menu. "She's like everybody's mother."
"So, what should I get?" Penny asked, running her finger down the choices.
"Get whatever you want," he answered.
Penny smiled happily.
"I'm starting to like this job," she said. She ordered an Italian beef, fries, a chocolate shake, and a piece of pie, and dug into it like there was no tomorrow. Morrissey got the usual, a grilled cheese and potato chips.
"Damn good sandwich," she said, wiping the juice off her chin with the back of her hand.
"Are you sure you don't want another one?" he said with a laugh.
"Uh uh, gotta save room for this pie."
Trixie came over and sat down with them.
"Where you been Cully boy?," she said pinching his cheek.
"Around the world and back again, mama," he said, looking over at Penny who was looking over at Trixie.
"This here is my new assistant, Penny," he said, nodding toward Penny who was now licking meringue off her lips.
Trixie slapped his back and laughed, "Lord knows he needs some assisting! Don't you want a little scoop of ice cream on that?" she said, pointing to Penny's pie. She jumped up and waddled off to the kitchen before Penny could answer.
"Cully Boy?" Penny smirked under her breath. Trixie returned with a scoop of vanilla.
"Are you sure you don't want another Italian beef to go along with that?" Morrissey said to Penny sarcastically. Penny smiled down at her pie and ice cream, then looked up at Trixie.
"Thanks Trixie, and, oh, that Italian beef was sooo good! Do you think I could get another one to go?"
"Well of course you can, Precious." Trixie waddled back off to the kitchen mumbling something like, "Bless her little hungry heart...."
Morrissey sat there and smoked a cigarette as he watched Penny's rather intense involvement with her pie and ice cream. She would take a bite, then sort of roll her eyes and make a moaning sound. Finally she glanced over to me.
"So, now what are we going to do, Boss?" she said, with a mouthful of ice cream. "Some kind of stake out?"
He fought off the sudden intrusion of an image in his mind of his tongue slipping into Penny's mouth, and reached for the hand-scrawled bill Trixie left by his plate.
"Actually, I was thinking we should take a ride over to Welco Manufacturing. Jake Bromberg was working there back then. Maybe there's still someone around who knew him."
Penny nodded while switching from a fork to a spoon. She was tilting the saucer slightly, and scooping up the last little vanilla puddle as it dribbled off the edge. Morrissey stood up.
"I'll go pay out, and leave you here to lick the plate," he said.
"Trixie," Morrissey said, while flipping through a roll of bills. "Back in the 30s when you took over the diner, didn't a woman named Roberta Bromberg work here for awhile?"'
"Roberta?" Trixie said, as she took his money and opened the register. "Yes, sure. That was sad what became of her."
"Was she a good worker? Steady? Reliable?"
"Oh, yes. Well, at first anyway. The last couple of months before it happened though, it was like something had come over her."
"I don't know. Moody, kinda. She looked half hung-over most of the time. Why are you asking, Cully?"
"No reason, really. It was before I started coming in. I remember reading something about it in the newspaper back then....and they mentioned she worked here once."
Trixie nodded. "Oh yeh. It's a shame what happened. But, anyone could tell you she was coming apart well before that day. Ask Doyle, he was coming in a lot in those days. He saw how she was. I'll never know why, or just exactly what did happen. It's sad though."
"Sad, yeh," he said, as Penny walked toward them. Trixie held out a brown bag.
"Here's your beef to go, Precious," she said to Penny.
As we pulled away from the diner, Penny unbuttoned the top of her jeans and ran her hand across her stomach.
"Oh, I ate too much," she complained. We headed across town to Welco Manufacturing. Penny looked over at me. "You're a swell boss, 'Cully Boy'", she said, with a mischievous smirking emphasis on those last two words.
"Well, 'Precious'" he replied, "That and ten cents will get you a cup of coffee."
A bony looking grey haired janitor in the basement of Welco Manufacuring, remembered Jake Bromberg. And he confirmed that Bromberg was, indeed, left-handed. Left handed all the way.
"He even parted his hair on the opposite side," the man recalled. So, if Morrissey got anything out of the day besides Penny's two Italian beefs, it was that. The photo of that gun in Jake Bromberg's lifeless right hand had now become a big black question mark that begged the next question: Who has the answer?
When he left the office and walked down to the bar that night he stopped at a phone booth and gave Penny a call. He reminded her it was important not to spill the beans and tell anyone at this point what we might have stumbled onto. That Jake Bromberg may not have killed himself at all, or killed the others. That there might have been someone else in that house that night. He could hear the tv on in her room at the Biltmore, it sounded like Jack Paar. She said she was about to turn in for the night. He wondered what she was wearing, but didn't ask.
Doyle was sitting in a booth with his arm around some gal when Morrissey got to O'Brian's. A blonde this time.
"Violet here is my new driver," he said. He handed her his keys. "Go warm up the car, sugar," he said, pinching her cheek. Morrissey glanced over his shoulder as he sat down across from Doyle. Violet was blowing a kiss to O'Brian behind the bar as she walked out the door.
"Your driver?" he said to Doyle. Doyle laughed with a drunken slobber.
"Women are a lot happier if you give them something to do."
"I'm sure you keep her busy," Morrissey answered. He leaned back in the booth and reached for his smokes. "I'm getting nowhere fast on this Bromberg thing," he said.
"That doesn't surprise me," Doyle slurred, waving his hand to O'Brian and holding up two fingers. "We turned over every leaf back then. It was an open and shut case. What did you expect?"
"I don't know. Eric Bromberg wanted me to look into it, and he's buying my time so I've been trying to dig around."
"Well, I can't fault you for taking a ride on the kid's wallet, but if he's read the newspaper accounts he already knows as much as anybody else. His father killed his mother and his sister, then killed himself. End of story."
"You're probably right," Morrissey said picking up his bourbon.
"So, how's my Penny doing?" Doyle asked.
Morrissey gave him a thumbs up. "Like you say, she's happy if I keep her busy." Doyle laughed and took a drink. Morrissey lit his cigarette and blew smoke rings up to the lamp hanging down over the table. "That Roberta Bromberg woman, didn't she work down there at that diner? The one on 37th street?"
Doyle nodded. "Yeh, she was there awhile, so I was told. A waitress, I think."
"What was she like?" Mosrrissey asked.
"How the hell would I know? I never went into that place. It's a dump."
Doyle pushed down on the table with both hands and slowly stood. "I'd better get going before Violet runs off with my car."
"I'll walk out with you," Morrissey said, tossing his drink. Doyle lumbered drunkenly toward the door. Morrissey grabbed his arm and steadied him as he stepped down onto the sidewalk. Violet pulled up to the curb. "Doyle, that day you went over there to the Bromberg house, were there other people standing around? Anything like that? Neighbors, maybe?"
"Nobody that knew anything, if that's what you mean," he slurred, reaching for the car door. "A handful of neighbors in the yard. We questioned them one by one. Nobody saw nothing."
He held the car door open while Doyle climbed in.
"Oh yeh," he said, looking up at Morrissey as he slid a hand onto Violet's leg. "There was one fellow parked on the street in a pick-up. But, he drove off."
"He drove off?" Morrissey repeated, but Violet had stepped on the gas, and they were gone.
Penny came in the next morning with her hair tied back. It made her face seem more elliptical and brought out her cheekbones somehow.
"I need to send you out today," Morrissey told her.
"More shopping?" she asked.
"No, I want you to do some investigative work for me," he answered. "I want you to drive out to the Bromberg house and poke around the neighborhood a little. Knock on some doors. Ask them what the Bromberg family was like, and if they remembered anything about that day. If anybody seems wary or suspicious, don't push it. Make up a reason to leave and take note of the house number. Pay attention to any little details about the people you talk to, and whatever stands out in their minds. You might ask them if they remember on that day of the incident, any strange faces in the neighborhood, or cars, or pick-up trucks. Think you can handle that?" Penny seemed excited about being sent out on a 'covert operation' as she called it, and retreated to the bathroom to get into her 'gear' as she called it. He gave her his car keys and a five-spot for lunch. She stuffed it into the back pocket of her well filled jeans and left.
Morrissey sat down and opened the Bromberg file again. He leafed through the police reports of interviews carried out by the homicide boys at the time. According to Doyle's notes, he had taken the call at his desk at 2:15 that day.
"A report of the sound of shots coming from a neighbor's house," Doyle had written. He responded to the call himself and went out to investigate. No one answered when he knocked on the door. It was unlocked, so he opened it to call out and identify himself. That's when he saw the blood on the floor in the hallway. He drew his gun and made a call for back-up. The next few pages detail the positions of the victims' bodies as he found them. He wrote that when assistance arrived he assigned them to take prints, gather up the weapon and any shell casings and so on, and to question the handful of neighbors standing around outside the house. There was no mention by Doyle nor in the accounts of those questioned, of a pick-up leaving the scene. In fact, he didn't even note that a young child was found alive at the scene. News of that fact didn't surface until the day after the incident when a news report surfaced that the Bromberg's youngest child was found alive and placed in the custody of the state.
It occurred to Morrissey that Doyle's years of inebriation may have pickled, or at least muddled his brain. There seemed to be things he doesn't remember, and perhaps he imagines or invents new facts now to fill those holes in his recollection. Of course, that's maybe true for everyone more or less. He remembered looking at Penny's various articles of clothing draped over the towel rack in the office bathroom. And he could envision or imagine just how she must have undressed almost as if he had been there. He could work it out deductively one piece of clothing at a time, and even where she was standing. One's imagination can play tricks on one's mind. The line between fantasy and reality can become blurred. He was beginning to wonder where that line was in Doyle's aging, screwed up, pickled mind.
PENNY'S SORE FEET
Morrissey threw on his coat and got ready to lock up and take his usual stroll from the office to O'Brian's. Maybe Doyle would be there. Maybe some other supposed memory might spill from his liquor-logged brain. Penny came in just as he was getting ready to leave for the day.
"I didn't think I'd see you until tomorrow," he said.
"My feet are killing me," she said, kicking off her boots. She plopped down in a chair, crossed one leg over the other, and began massaging a black nylon foot.
"Most people that wear combat boots wear thick socks," he said, leaning back against the top of his desk and watching her work her toes over, her face a mixture of pain and ecstasy. Groans and happy whining sounds.
"I walked all over that damn neighborhood," she complained. "There were only four houses where there was someone who even lived in the neighborhood back when it happened."
"So, what did they say?" Morrissey asked, walking around his desk and sitting down.
"Well, this one woman said she remembered the little Bromberg girl because she had a daughter the same age, and they used to play together. Her daughter lives over in Indianapolis now,... married and two kids,...comes to see her once a month, and blah, blah, blah." Penny pulled the clip out of her hair and shook it loose around her face. Morrissey kicked his feet up on the desk.
"Well, we might want to talk to the daughter, he mused. "What else?"
"Well, the woman said she thought the Bromberg girl was 'odd'." He watched as Penny stood and threw her jacket onto the chair.
"Meaning?..." he asked.
"Kinda quiet, didn't have much to say. Moody, even." Penny fumbled in her purse for a cigarette. "So, I said, 'Shy?' But the woman said, 'No, it wasn't that. It was something else." Penny lit her cigarette. "Look," she said, "Can we go get a drink?"
Penny emerged from the bathroom like a butterfly in a yellow shirt-waist dress with a wide and plunging lapel collar, her high heels snapping out a rhythm on the wooden floor of the office. Morrissey talked to her about some of the inconsistencies in the police reports. While Doyle had told him a pick-up truck had been in the vicinity of the crime scene, it was not actually reported anywhere in the file.
"Of course, I have some doubts about a lot of things your uncle says after he's tossed a few."
""Oh, that reminds me," Penny said, "When I was sitting with that lady in her living room she showed me a photo she had on the side table. It was of her as a younger woman with her daughter and son. They were standing in front of a green pick-up truck. She said it was her son's."
"How old did he look to be?" Morrissey asked.
"Ummm, maybe in his 20s. She said he was Marsha's big brother. Damn that wind!" she said, putting her arm in his and hugging close as they walked down the street. "So, do I get a raise yet?" Penny asked.
"I'll tell you what," he said as they approached O'Brian's, "I'll buy you a drink."
The place was empty. No sign of Doyle. They took a seat at a table in a corner at the back. Its always a little warmer when you sit near the kitchen. Penny ordered a tequila sunrise and sat bent over the table sipping it through a cocktail straw.
"We might want to find out a little more about this lady's kid, the daughter too, for that matter," Morrissey said, "There's not much else to go on right now anyway."
"She told me to come back anytime," Penny said. "She thinks that my parents and Mr. and Mrs. Bromberg were old friends."
"Good cover," he smiled.
"Thanks," she replied, "So, when do you think I can get a raise?"
"How about if I buy you another drink?"
"Ok," she said, standing up and digging for change in her purse. "This place needs some music." Predictably, she plugged 'Dark Moon'. She returned and tugged at his arm. "Come on, Cully, dance with me."
"I thought your feet were killing you," he said, trying to get out of it.
"That was yesterday," Penny answered. She kept tugging. "Come on."
No, that was an hour ago," he replied.
"That's what I mean," Penny answered. "Now, come on." She led him reluctantly to an open area by the juke box. He ran his arm around her waist. Her thick and jasmine-scented hair tickled the side of his face. O'Brian, with nothing else to do, was leaning on the bar watching and smiling because he knew what a terrible dancer Morrissey was. They moved in slow small steps. "...mortals have dreams of love's perfect schemes, but they don't realize that love can sometimes bring...a dark moon..."
"Why do you like this song so much?" he asked her as he felt her warm breath against his neck.
"I don't want to talk about it," she answered. He felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Doyle.
"Mind if I cut in?"
"Oh... hi, Uncle Doyle," Penny said. Morrissey walked over to the bar and got another round of drinks, and a double shot for Doyle. Doyle's stumbling waltz around the floor with Penny made his own stumbling performance seem stellar. He seemed already pretty lit up when he sat down at the table, most likely he had stopped off at the Clover Club, his favorite strip joint.
"So, how's my little Penny doing?" he said, reaching across the table to squeeze Penny's hand. Morrissey fought off the intrusive image in his mind of bringing his shot glass down on Doyle's big fat knuckles, and some protective impulse in him wanted to tell Penny she should wash that hand as soon as possible. Instead, he changed the subject.
"Remember that pick-up you said you saw at the Bromberg house?"
"Are you still on that dead end road?" Doyle answered. "Yeh, there was a truck that went by. You know how people are, they slow down when they see cop cars because they're nosy. Same as the people out standing on the sidewalk waiting to see the bodies carried out; morbid curiosity, you might call it."
"Do you remember anything about the truck? The make? The color?"
"Morrissey," he said, "You and I go way back. I was the one that broke your rookie ass in. Like I said before, I don't blame you for keeping that kid on the hook, it pays the bills, and it pays for your secretarial help." He paused to look at Penny and pat her hand. "But, ok. It was a Ford. No, a Chevy. And it was green. So, now what do you want to know? What the onlookers were wearing?" Morrissey gestured with his hands and shrugged, but by then Doyle had turned to Penny and was groping her hand with both of his. Morrissey fought off another intrusive image in his mind, and got up to go pay O'Brian the tab.
LATE NIGHT CALL
It was a little before midnight when the phone rang. Morrissey turned down the sound on the tv. It was Penny.
"Are you ok?" he asked, looking at the clock on the wall.
"Yeh, yeh, I'm ok," she answered. "What are you doing?"
"I'm just watching the tv," he replied. "What are you doing?"
"Oh, nothing, really. But, I've just been turning something around in my head."
"About the Bromberg case?, he asked.
"No. But, I just feel I should tell you something..."
"I'm all ears," he said, leaning back on the couch and staring at his bare feet on the coffee table.
"Well, its about Doyle," she said hesitantly.
"Doyle? Yeh, he's crazy. Your uncle was a damn good cop in his day, though."
"Well, the thing is Cully, Doyle's not really my uncle. I've been meaning to tell you that."
Morrissey sat straight up, his foot knocking a beer bottle onto the floor.
"What was that?" Penny said.
"Nothing. I dropped something," he answered. "What do you mean he's not your uncle?!"
"He's not my uncle," she repeated. "He's just some jerk I met at the Clover Club."
"Hold on a minute, Penny," he said, laying the phone down. He grabbed a beer from the fridge and popped it open. He picked the phone back up and sat down again.
"You were a dancer at the Clover Club?" he said with an edge of disbelief.
"Only for about a week," she answered. "I just moved here and needed the money." Morrissey was bothered by the idea of horny lechers watching Penny take off her clothes. He thought that was just something that happened in his own imagination in the office bathroom.
"And Doyle?" he asked, not sure he wanted to know.
"He just showed up one night and asked me if I wanted to go get a drink after work. That's when we ran into you. Doyle said I was his niece, and so, I just played along with that."
"And he got you a room at the Biltmore?" Morrissey said, piecing the story together.
"Hell no. He offered to pay some rent to help me get started. But, I knew what he was really wanting. Besides, I was making good money at the club and could pay my own rent. I know you and he worked together on the force, and you think a lot of him, but he's a real slob. I'm sorry to just now be telling you all this."
"That's ok," he said. "I knew something didn't seem quite right, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Doyle was always one to chase down skirts." There was a silence on the line. "Penny?"
"Yeh, I'm here," she answered.
"Why did you leave Toledo?"
"I can't talk about that right now Cully," she said. "I'm too tired."
"Some other time then?" he asked.
"Yeh, some other time."
"Alright. I'm glad you told me these things Penny. I can help you keep Doyle off your back."
"Thanks," she said.
THE WAY THE COOKIE CRUMBLES....
Morrissey was tired going to the office the next morning. Too many things on his mind the night before that kept waking him up in the night still sorting out the pieces of several puzzles. He had a 10 o'clock with Eric Bromberg to think about, too. What to tell him at this point.
Penny had the coffee going, and was sitting at her desk playing with her fingernails. Morrissey had a new found fondness for her.
"I put the Bromberg file on your desk," she said with a smile. There was no mention of their conversation on the phone the night before. He had Penny sit in on his meeting with Bromberg. He asked him if he'd ever seen the photos that had been taken on the day his parents and sister died. He said he hadn't. He asked him if he wanted to see them, and then asked him if he was sure. He glanced over to Penny while Bromberg looked over the photos with no visible change of expression, but Penny had her eyes glued to Bromberg. Finally, he laid the folder down on the desk and said,
"Something's not right. I don't know what it is, but something's not right. It's like I have a memory, but I can't put my finger on it."
Morrissey didn't fill Eric Bromberg in regarding some of his own doubts. Although he did vaguely mention he was sensing some discrepancies in the story. He don't know where Bromberg was getting his bucks, but he laid some down and asked that he keep digging. Meanwhile, he was getting a hunch he wanted to coax more information out of Doyle. At the end of the day, he handed Penny a few large bills.
"This is a raise. And now, let's go get a drink."
Penny put her arm in his as they walked to O'Brian's in the never ending winds around Terre Haute. It was a nice feeling. Like she was feeling safe with him. Safe from what, he didn't know, but, it was a nice feeling. He told her he was going to jack with Doyle a bit to see what might fall out of the hole in his head.
"Just go along with me, ok?" She nodded.
"Whatever you say, Cully boy."
"That's the spirit, Precious," he replied.
Doyle was at the bar shooting his usual shit to O'Brian, having no skirt to impress. Morrissey had a fleeting thought about how bartenders get their ears bent by endless drunken stories. In his head he put O'Brian on the list of people to talk to. If you want to know what's going on, bartenders know more secrets than most people. They are also very hard to corner though, since they make their tips more on the art of discretion and confidentiality than on how to mix a drink. It's hard to get a bartender drunk too, since they are better at that than you. Penny spent a few minutes at the juke box, and then took to talking to O'Brian. Morrissey didn't worry too much about that, since O'Brian is queer. He wasn't pushy about it, but he had a thing about cops in uniform. They all loved him despite his fawning.
Doyle smelled like he hadn't had a shower in a few days. No wonder there was no young thing sidled up to him. Penny wandered back to the bar, and Doyle wanted to buy her a drink.
"Let me buy you one, Uncle Doyle," she said, pulling bucks from her purse. Morrissey glanced over at Penny. She was beautiful, but more than that, she was understanding the game.
"I saw that Bromberg kid today," he said.
"Yeh, whatever," Doyle slurred, clinking glasses with Penny.
"Yeh," Morrissey went on. "He said he had some kind of memory, but can't figure out what it is, so I set him up with a hypnotist to see if he could pull up any memories of that day." Doyle turned to look at him.
"You don't seriously believe in that crap do you?" Morrissey shrugged.
"Hey, he's pulling the rent, so I might as well keep him on the string," he answered. Doyle raised his glass. "That's my boy," he slobbered.
He gave Penny a ride back to the Biltmore, even though it was only a few blocks away.
"Ok," she said, "Why did you tell Doyle you sent Bromberg to a hypnotist?"
"Oh, I don't know. I guess I just wanted to see what he would think about that."
"Looks like he didn't think much of it at all," Penny said.
"That's the way it looks alright, but then, looks can be deceiving sometimes," he replied, as they pulled up in front of the Biltmore. He turned and smiled at her. "Dress for the field tomorrow."
'What's up?" she asked.
"I was thinking we might as well go visit that lady you talked to; the one with the daughter who knew the Bromberg girl, and the son with the pick-up truck. See what else she has to say."
He looked into the rear view mirror as he pulled away. Penny was chatting up the doorman. He slowed down and watched.
"Will you go on in the damn building, Penny?" he muttered to himself.
Over in the old Bromberg neighborhood, they pulled up to the lady's house. Mrs. Carver, her name was. Penny introduced Morrissey as a friend of hers who just blew into town. Mrs. Carver seemed friendly enough; probably lonely, with the kids grown up and gone. The house smelled like a greasy spoon. The aging floral wallpaper seemed to give off the faint fragrance of fried chicken.
"I've just been trying to clean up the house a little," she said, "Marsha and the grandchildren are coming to visit. Have a seat. Would you like some coffee? I just made it." Penny said she'd love some, and Morrissey nodded along. She disappeared into the kitchen.
"She seems like a nice lady," Penny said, looking over at him. She pointed to the picture on the side table. "That's her and her kids." Morrissey picked it up and studied it. Mrs. Carver returned with a serving tray and set it down gently on the coffee table. "Oh, that picture is from quite awhile ago," she said, "When Marsha and Adam were still living at home. Marsha, she lives in Indianapolis now, and Adam, well, he was sent up to Joliet. "
"His work?" Penny asked.
"Oh, No," Mrs Carver replied. "I wish I could so say, but no. Adam, he had a way of getting into trouble with his temper, I'm sorry to say. So, they sent him up to the correctional center there in Joliet for a few years.
"So, where is he now?" Morrissey asked.
"Well, he's back there again, I am sorry to say. I thought he had learned his lesson, but he no sooner got out on probation, but what he got in a fight in a bar. Just went crazy, and beat up this guy with a bar stool. Nearly killed the man."
"Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that," Penny empathized, "That must have been hard on you, and his little sister too." She nodded. "Yes, but he'd been a hard one to manage from the day he was born."
"Nice old truck," Morrissey said, pointing to the picture.
"Oh, yes. He was quite proud of his truck. It's still sitting in the garage out back. He didn't want me to sell it."
"No kidding?" he said. "I used to have a truck just like this awhile back. Do you suppose I could take a look at it?"
"Oh, I don't mind. Of course, its got years of dust and cobwebs on it by now. And four flat tires."
She unlocked the garage and swung the doors open.
"Yep," Morrissey said, walking around the truck. "Just like the one I had. Wonder how many miles this one has on it?" He opened the door and slid onto the dusty seat and looked around quickly. He picked a matchbook up from the floor board and took a quick feel under the seat. He felt a couple of shell casings rolling around beneath his fingers. He quickly stuffed them into his coat pocket. "Well Penny, he said, glancing at his watch, I guess we should get going. Let me know if your son ever decides to sell his truck. I'd make him a decent offer."
She walked them out to the street.
"Sorry you have to rush off," she said.
"I would love to meet your daughter sometime," Penny said.
"Well honey, you're welcome to drop by Saturday if you like. I'm sure Marsha would like to meet you."
"Ok, Penny," Morrissey said, as they pulled away. "I want you to see if you can dig up anything on Adam Carver. Maybe call up to Joliet Correctional Center and see if they'll tell you anything, like what kind of record he has, or if he has a release date, names of any lawyers he might have had, and so on."
"Yes sir, Mr. boss Man," Penny smiled. "Did I do good?"
He glanced over at her.
"Yes, you done good, and don't call me 'Mr. Boss Man'. Here, take these," he said, handing her the shell casings. "Tomorrow I want you to run them over to the lab at the downtown station. Ask for Joey Diamonto. Tell him to run them, and see if they match up with anything in the records. Tell him its a favor for me. He owes me one."
DEAD IN THE WATER
When Morrissey got to the office the next morning, the coffee was brewing as usual. Penny left a note on the desk that she was headed over to the lab and would call him later. The bathroom smelled like Jasmine. A pink straight dress with a wide boat neck collar hung from a hanger on a nail by the window. A pair of black patent leather heels lay on the floor by the toilet. Black panties and stockings adorned the towel rack. He was just reaching to touch them when the phone rang. It was Penny.
"Have you heard?" she said.
"Heard what?" he asked.
"They just fished Eric Bromberg out of the river."
"I'll pick you up in 15 minutes," Morrissey replied. "Damn," he muttered as he hung up the phone. He wondered how many bodies have been dumped in the Wabash over the years. Or for that matter, how many dumped into rivers, streams, lakes, or oceans in general. It would be a huge number, he reckoned, not even to count the ones no one ever knew about. One thing life teaches you is just how cheap a life is.
DARK MOON REVISITED.
He parked the car outside the station and went in. The place had that familiar smell of linoleum wax and cigarettes. Mickey at the front desk shouted,
"Morrissey, come over here you old son of a bitch!" He stood and reached over the desk to shake Morrissey's hand. "Where the hell you been?" he asked.
"Nowhere in particular," he answered, "How've you been, Mickey? How's the missus?"
"Aw, she's the same ol' complaining bitch she always was, but I love her in spite of herself. Hey, I just met that new assistant of yours - is she available, if you get my drift?"
"Yeh, I get your drift, and no, she's not available. Besides you're too old for a frisky gal like that. But, hey what's this I hear about somebody getting pulled out of the river?"
"Well, the details are still coming in, but looks like he was knocked off with .410 shotgun and then dumped."
Penny came down the stairs. Morrissey took her by the arm and headed for the door.
"Later, Mickey. Let's get a drink sometime for old time's sake."
"It'll be on me, Cully," he shouted as they left.
"Did you get the casings into the lab?" he asked Penny.
"Yeh, no problem. He said he'd know something tomorrow or the next day. So now what?" she asked, as they got in the car.
"Now we get a drink and talk some things over." He drove over to Kelly's Pub, a dive on the outskirts of town where he probably wouldn't run into anyone he knows. Especially, Doyle.
Kelly's was a dimly lit joint with dark varnished walls. They took a table in the shadows.
"This is my hide-out," he said to Penny as she looked over at the few shadowy people up at the bar. The bartender brought us a couple of martinis. "Anybody going to play that piano tonight Joey?" he asked, with a nod of my head to an upright in the corner.
"Only for you, Morrissey," he replied. "What are you in the mood for?"
"Some Nat King Cole, maybe."
"Now you're talkin'." Joey said.
Morrissey and Penny clinked their glasses as Joey began to play.
"Quarter to three, no one in the place 'cept you and me,
So, set 'em up Joe, I got a little story I want you to know...
This torch that I've found must be drowned or it soon might...."
Morrissey looked at Penny staring off to the piano, sucking an olive on a toothpick.
"So, Adam Carver is still in the big house," Penny said. "In fact, he's in solitary...attacked a guard last week."
"How'd you find that out so fast?" he asked.
"You know, Mickey, at the front desk...?"
"I just soft talked him a little bit, and he made the call for me up to Joliet."
"What did you tell him?"
"Nothing," Penny said, sucking her drink up from a skinny yellow cocktail straw. "I just told him Adam Carver was my second cousin, and I wondered how he was doing. Mickey got right on it like a puppy on a bowl of gravy," she chuckled.
"A puppy on a bowl of gravy?" Morrissey said, "Listen Penny, Mickey is one smooth operator, you'd be a fool to get too chummy with that guy."
"I do believe you're jealous, Morrissey," she said.
"Me, jealous of Mickey? I'm just telling you how it is."
"Well then, let's dance," Penny replied. He took a sip on his martini as Penny walked over to the piano. She looked back at him and beckoned with her hand. Joey hit the first few chords, and Morrissey knew they were back to 'Dark Moon'. He slid his hand around Penny's waist beneath her army jacket. His fingers fanned out over the flare of her hip. Joey began singing it the way Nat King Cole might have. Morrissey felt Penny's warm cheek against his neck.
"Why would someone want to kill Eric Bromberg?" she said softly, her warm breath making the hair on the back of his neck prickle.
"That's a good question," he answered, nuzzling his nose ever so slightly into her thick fragrant red hair. His palm slid down over the tight softness of her jeans.
"Maybe whoever killed the Brombergs figured he better knock the kid off too," she murmured.
"Maybe," he answered, "But how would that person have found Eric Bromberg after all those years?"
"That's a good question too," Penny whispered. He slipped a bill to Joey and they went back to their table. He pulled his chair up next to hers and called for a couple more martinis. He asked her again why she left Toledo.
"I needed to get away from a real jerk," she replied.
"Does he know where you are now?" he asked.
"No. If anything, he thinks I went to Chicago."
"What kind of jerk was this guy?"
"Let's just leave it at that," she replied. He looked at her. Her cheeks were flushed. Her lips in a half frown. He leaned over and kissed her, then pulled back.
"Forget that ever happened," he said.
"You mean this?" she said, leaning toward him and pressing her lips to his.
"Uh huh," he whispered back into her mouth.
In the dream Morrissey could hear the key and the squeaking click of the doorknob turning, but he couldn't wake up. He saw his gun on the kitchen table and the bottle of gin. There was the quiet patter of feet coming toward him, and then the thick and fragrant hair falling around his face like a dark blanket shielding him from the glare of the morning light. The phone rang harshly. He bolted up from the couch.
"Cully? Where the hell are you?"
"You were supposed to meet me at the diner at 9 sharp."
"What time is it now?"
"It's 10:30. And, I've had way too much coffee, and I'm running out of smokes. Are you coming or not?"
"I'll be right there."
Another ugly Terre Haute winter day. Morrissey pulled his coat snug around his chest and scratched the stubble beneath his chin.. Another day of not shaving. He almost slammed into a fire hydrant tripping on a shoelace. "I need to get it together," he mumbled to himself.
Penny was staring at him as he approached her in the diner. Her eyes followed him as he sat down at her table and bent to tie his shoes.
"Good morning, Dr. Death," she smirked.
"Don't start on me Penny," he grumbled. "I already feel like I've got a mouthful of crackers."
"Yeh," she said, snuffing her cigarette in an over-flowing ashtray. "It sucks being dead, don't it?" Trixie set a cup of coffee down in front of him and scrubbed her fat hand around on the top of his uncombed head.
"Mama make it better, baby," she smirked. He was outnumbered.
"Look, Penny," he said, slurping on my coffee. "I'm sorry. I overslept."
"Knocked out loaded is what I'd call it," she said.
He shrugged and cocked his head.
"Ok, knocked out loaded, whatever." She laughed, and plucked another smoke from the pack.
"I just got here 10 minutes ago myself."
"I thought you said you'd been here since 9?"
She laughed again.
"I overslept. You can't always believe what you hear in this business. At least I think that's what somebody told me once."
He squinted his eyes and watched her light her cigarette. How did this little dizzy dame from Toledo suddenly become a wise-talking gangster? He pointed his finger and shook it at her.
"You're getting pretty good at this game, aren't you?"
"They tell me I'm learning from the best," she said, with a giggle.
They sat in the car letting it warm up.
"I need a shower," Penny said, as he ran a comb through his hair. He glanced over at her. She was wearing the same clothes she had on last night. She probably passed out just like he had.
"That was a helluva night, I guess," he muttered. She looked away at her side window and wiped the foggy condensation with her coat sleeve.
"Frankly,I don't remember. I forget things real fast."
There was a loud scraping sound as Morrissey pulled away from the curb. He got out and kicked a large clunker of black ice off the front wheel well, and jumped back in.
"I hate Terre Haute in the winter," he grumbled. "I need to retire to Miami, that's what I need to do."
"So, retire, already," Penny replied.
"Maybe I will." They stopped off at the office so Penny could shower up. He listened to the water and imagined it on her skin. He hadn't showered either. It would be the perfect excuse to go in there right now. But then, she said she didn't remember last night, so he decided to pretend along with her for awhile. He expected her to come waltzing out like Doris Day, but she reappeared with her wet hair tied back and in the same clothes she had on yesterday. She was becoming what he had asked her to be, and he was wanting the Penny she had been before.
They drove over to the downtown station and walked up to the 3rd floor to see Joey Diamonto in 'Ballistics'. He had run the casings Morrissey had found in Adam Carver's truck. They matched casings retrieved from a liquor store robbery about 8 years ago, but that's about all they had on record. Of course they already knew Adam Carver had done some time on that incident, so nothing new so far.
"Funny thing, though," Joey said. "About that Bromberg kid? Those .410 shot shells we looked at weren't fired from a shotgun. They came from a .45 pistol, and probably with a sawed off barrel maybe 3 inches long. You don't see guns like that very often."
"Yeh," Morrissey said. "I can't remember the last time I saw one of those. Anything like that showing up in records?"
"Nothing so far," Joey said. "We're still running the files though, I'll let you know."
RUNNING ON EMPTY
Morrissey sat outside in the car with Penny.
"So, what now?" she said.
"What now? I don't know what now, that's what I'm turning over in my mind. Our client is dead. Whatever questions he wanted answers for disappeared with him. And there's no more money on the table."
"Yeh, I get that, Penny answered. "But the questions really still linger, don't they? I mean, I'm sitting here right now with questions. What did go down in that house? And who killed Eric Bromberg, and why?"
"Right," he conceded. "But, that's not the problem right now. The problem is who can afford the answers? What we need right now Penny, is a new client. Somebody who can pay the bills to have their problem solved. Money is a thing that's supposed to flow like blood. If you get a clogged artery, you're in trouble. So, that's where we are. We need some dough."
"Well," Penny said, "I can hang on for a few days."
"That just gives you time to pray for a miracle," he said.
"I can always go back to dancing if I need to."
"I don't think that's such a good idea, if you're talking about the Clover Club." Morrissey replied. "Trixie might take you in down at the diner. It wouldn't pay much, but at least you'd get to keep your clothes on. I can probably stall the rent on my place and on the office for a month or two."
"Its a thin line to have to walk, isn't it?" Penny said quietly.
"Yeah." He started the car and drove back to the office.
They spent a couple of days around the office mostly twiddling thumbs and hoping for a call or a knock on the door. They must have played a hundred hands of gin rummy. It was a brief escape from staring out the window at the city Morrissey loved to hate. Penny kept looking for answers to one thing or another, like how to drum up business. Aside from running the usual two line ad in the classifieds, it was mostly a waiting game. Penny came up with a bit of dark humor in suggesting that perhaps we could murder someone and then pretend to investigate the crime. He pretended to chuckle knowing that he'd already thought of that one before.
"So, why did you leave the force?" Penny asked him.
"Well, you know Penny, cops aren't just these servants of the public helping old ladies and school children across the street. It gets ugly sometimes."
"I know that," Penny said, "I know a lot of hellacious crap goes down in a city, and cops are the first on the scene - first to have to deal with it."
"I'm talking about about some other kinds of ugly," he muttered.
"Like cops on the take, and the dirty politics of enforcement. When I worked Vice, we used to shake down the pimps and hookers. The newspapers would cover it with stories of how we are cleaning up the city."
"Well, weren't you?" Penny asked.
He looked across the desk at her laying another gin hand down. "You owe me another two bits," she chuckled.
"It's not a perfect world, Penny," he said, shuffling the cards. "You should make a memo of that and stick it between your baby blues." Penny pouted. "I didn't mean it that way," he said, realizing he'd hurt her feelings. "Let me tell you what a police raid is all about," he said, setting the deck down. She cut it and pushed it back to him. "We get a couple of cars, and a paddy wagon, and we pull up to a whore house. One by one we escort the ladies out, and the Johns too. And into the wagon they go." He dealt out another hand. "So," he continued, "We take them downtown and book them and toss their asses into a holding cell. The pimps show up in a couple of hours, go their bail. An hour later, they are back on the street turning tricks."
"So, why bother?" Penny asked, sorting the cards in her hand.
"Why? Because of the money that falls through the cracks in the system in those few hours. We'd take our share, and send the rest to City Hall. Same with cocaine busts on the mob. The gangsters shell out the bucks to keep their business going, we take their coke, and cop a buzz. Meanwhile, the good citizens of Terre Haute think we are doing a great job trying to mop up scum. And the Mayor gets re-elected for the same reason. It's all a big game." Penny frowned. "Gin," he said, laying his cards on the table. "That's why you see a lot of cops hanging out at bars - drinking off the ugly underbelly of this town, and knowing they're part of it.
Penny called while Morrissey was opening a can of beans.
"Hey listen, she said. "I was thinking about not coming in tomorrow."
"I can't blame you," he said, holding the phone with his chin as he spooned the beans into a pan.
"I've been thinking it over. I think I'm going to go dance for awhile, and make some bucks," she said quietly, knowing I was probably going to go off on her. He turned on the stove, and carried the phone back to the couch. "Are you still there?" she said, after the silence.
"Yeh, I'm still here. I was just fixing supper."
"What are you having?" she said.
"The usual steak and potatoes." He sat down on the couch and turned on the tv. "So, I guess you're going back to the Clover Club?"
"Uh huh." Morrissey gritted his teeth imagining Penny in a naked bump and grind in front of a bunch of slobbering jerks throwing wads of bills up on the stage.
"Well, look," he said, lighting a cigarette. "If I can trap another client, I'll call you."
"I was kind of hoping you'd say something like that," she said with a sigh.
"What were you thinking I was going to say," he said, blowing smoke rings out between his mouth and the five o'clock news.
"I don't know," she answered. "I guess I thought you'd start cussing me out, or just hang up the phone."
"Look Penny, you're not a stripper. You're a snoop, a gumshoe. If I had the dough, I'd get you back here in a snap. I know a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do, but like I've said, you start walking certain lines, its easy to trip and go down, that's all I'm saying."
When he hung up the phone he just sat there thinking it all over. Aside from the rude idea of other men watching Penny and thinking their dirty thoughts, and aside from his own growing desire to have her all to himself, he felt protective, and edgy about Penny taking a walk to the other side of town. It's dark over there. His thoughts were interrupted by the smoke filling the room with the smell of burned beans.
Morrissey didn't bother to go to the office the next day. He drove over to a park along the Wabash River and sat on a bench looking back at the city. Terre Haute was a model of stagnation and all the nefarious offspring it spawns; the flourishing red light district, the casinos, the junkies and the drunks. All that and the pimps, the gangsters, the politicians, the cops, all holding hands to keep it that way.
He wondered why he ever he thought he could make a dent in it. There was something about the war that had something to do with it. The insanity of pulling a trigger becomes commonplace, you get used to blood and screaming. Killing was just the easiest way not to get killed. Having a badge gave you a license to do it.
He dropped by the station house. Sometimes you get leads that way and snag a client. Blue shirts and badges thick as flies. The downtown station is its own sub-culture.
Old cops, new cops, good cops, bad cops, and cops that don't know which side they're on yet. He shot the breeze with Mickey at the front desk. Mickey usually had an overview of what was going down. He nabbed Joey Diomonto as he cruised by.
"Anything new on Bromberg, or those shot shells?"
"Not much. The coroner says he died when he was shot and promptly dumped in the river, it happened about 9pm that night. Some ambiguous muddy foot prints suggest he was backed up to the water's edge and then executed. We can't track the shell casings to any 45 shot shell on record. That's all I know," he shrugged and walked away.
"Cully," Mickey said. He motioned with a shrug of his head for him to lean in a bit.
Morrissey rested one elbow down on the desk glancing to Joey disappearing down the stairs.
"There's something not quite right going on here," Mickey said quietly.
"Like?" Morrisey replied.
"Like back about 3 years ago we took a modified Smith and Wesson .45 shot shell into Evidence. I was working the desk when a couple of kids brought it in saying they found it in an alley. It had a stubby sawed off barrel, the serial number filed off."
"It should have gone on record then, right?"
"Well, that's the thing. It did go on record. I was the one who put it on record."
MIckey was sorta talking through his teeth and glancing around. "It wound up on a back shelf as an untraceable dead end. But get this Cully, a year later it vanished, along with the report I filed." A certain amount of pilfering had always taken place down in Evidence. Unclaimed goods not assigned to a case frequently became swag snatched up by just about anybody on the force. The practice was, for the most part, ignored. Nevertheless, this was interesting news.
"Thanks Mickey," he said, turning to leave.
"Just keep it under your hat," he said.
He nodded. "I owe you a beer Mickey ," he said, as he pushed open the door.
MONEY BUYS EVERYTHING
Morrissey killed some time taking in a movie down on 7th and Wabash. He had decided to go pick up Penny from the Clover Club and take her back to her place. Better that than to think of her walking home followed by some drooling weirdo. When he got to the club she was just coming on stage, her last walk-out for the night. He watched from a dark corner as the drummer off stage did a drum roll and she stepped out into the spotlight. She looked like a walking time bomb in a black and red bustier with a lace up bodice. The only thing that could trump that was the Ivory handled derringer tucked into her red garter. It was a nice and easy bump and grind. The guys up front were waving bills, and a sailor tossed his hat onto the stage. She did a little curtsey and picked it up. She swayed to the music, rubbed it around on her cleavage and flung it back out. Watching half a dozen men lunge to catch it, he doubted that sailor ever saw his hat again, or had to pay a ransom to get it back.
The audience got boisterous as she swayed beneath the light and slowly untied the lace bow in her bodice. She did a little turn and swayed back and forth giving the guys a look at the other side of the picture, and Morrissey could tell she was loosening her top and beginning to peel it down. She tossed her hair and glanced back over her shoulder to a chorus of whistles. The wadded greenbacks began to pepper the stage. She turned gracefully around, and there she was, her ample ivory breasts spilling forth like an offering in a bowl of red fingernails. The spotlight went off, the curtains closed, and that was it.
Morrissey waited in the car by the back door of the club. Penny came out in a raincoat and her combat boots. He honked the horn and she waved and came over.
"Hop in, I'll give you a ride." They pulled slowly out of the alley and he threw a menacing look at a couple of would-be Johns lurking along the curb.
"Did you come in?" she asked.
"Yeah, I thought you might already be done for the night."
"So, what did you think?"
"Well, I gotta admit you looked pretty damn hot," he replied. "The derringer was a nice touch." She laughed.
"I told the boss it was one of my props, but actually I was packing live. Like you say, better safe than sorry." She pulled it from her purse and broke it down showing him the brass caps of two .22 shorts.
"You know Penny, there's a lot I don't know about you," he said.
"Its probably better that way," she answered. "So what have you been doing today?"
"I went to see a movie. The Beat Generation with Mamie van Doren."
"I kinda like the beatniks," she said.
"Well, the ones in this movie were ridiculous. There was this one who dressed like a beatnik, but he really wasn't one. The goatee and the beret were part of his M.O. He was this dude known as 'The Aspirin Kid'. He'd pretend he had a headache and ask women if they had an aspirin. When they checked their purses he'd pull out a gun and rob them."
"Did he shoot Mamie Van Doren?"
"You don't want me to spoil it for you, do you?" Morrissey said, as they pulled up to the Biltmore.
"Thanks for the lift," she said, opening the door. He grabbed her arm.
"Penny, why don't you just check in with me every day, and let me know you are ok."
"Ok," she smiled. "I'll call you before I go into work, how's that?" He nodded and waited until she disappeared into the hotel.
Empty days came and went. Morrissey picked up Penny every night and saw her home. He spent a couple of days going through the clutter of the office and boxing a few things up. It wouldn't be the first time he'd shut an office down.
It was a Wednesday while leafing through the Bromberg file, there was a quiet knocking on the door. He assumed it must be Penny on her way over to the club. Instead it was a slender woman with grey hair immaculately coiffed. Her face seemed demure and flawless for a woman appearing to be in her fifties. No wrinkles. No sag. No crows feet around the eyes. In other words, a face that had been well taken care of, even pampered. There was a dark jade-like quality to her eyes. A slate grey green. She introduced herself with an extended hand.
"My name is Evelyn Kiriakas," she said, in a quiet voice handing him a small white linen card that held only her name penned as though with a Japanese brush.
"Come in, Miss Kiriakas," he said, stepping aside and inviting her with a wave of his arm. "Have a seat please." He sat down behind his desk and closed the Bromberg file.
"May I smoke?" she said, crossing her legs.
"Doesn't everybody?" he answered. He looked her over as she opened the clasp of her little black kid leather bag on her lap. Her trim black skirt fell short of her white silk stockinged knee. Her black jacket was nicely tailored with a stylish lapel and the blouse beneath it appeared to be white silk. Everything about her looked like money. Even the fragrance in the air smelled like money. Dior. He tried to appear nonchalant, but clearly she was some kind of godsend.
"How can I help you today?" he said, as she blew a thin stream of smoke from her pursed lips. She had thin lips painted a dark red. More like maroon.
"Its a simple matter really for a person who knows what they are doing," she said, her eyes going to his wall calender which embarrassingly held only the name 'Penny' scrawled across each of the last ten days.
"That could be me, I guess. "It depends on what needs doing."
"I need to be rid of something," she said, looking directly into his eyes.
"And what might that be?" he replied.
"Well, rid of someone, I suppose I should say."
"Someone bothering you? Following you around?" he asked. There was a faint smirk on her face.
"Let's just say, someone who deserves to disappear. Evaporate." Morrissey straightened up in his chair and clasped his hands together on the desk.
"Miss Kiriakas," he said, glancing down at her exotic calling card. "I am a private investigator. I am licensed to look into things. Making things, or people, disappear is another matter all together."
"I understand Mr. Morrissey, that such a request is a bit, well beyond the pale, shall we say?"
"Yes, let's," he said, leaning back in his chair watching her take another carefully calculated draw on her cigarette. She was puffing on a Gitane filtered blonde. He remembered marching through France trading G.I. chocolate for the old-fashioned dark Gitanes. She exhaled softly, looked at him and smiled.
"I understand that a matter such as this requires ample compensation," she said, leaning forward. "I assure you, it would be well worth your time."
"To kill somebody? Rub 'im out? You must be confusing me with the Mob. They're the ones you need to tell your troubles to."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Morrissey, but its the mob that wants to rub me out," she said with a dead-pan expression on her face.
"So you want me to take out the Mob?! Is that what you are asking?!" He leaned back, shook his head and laughed.
"I'm no fool, Mr. Morrissey," she answered. "But someone has put a price on my head, and to put it quite simply, I've decided to put a better price on his." She opened her purse and laid three stacks of crisp bills on his desk each neatly banded by the bank. "Let's call this a retainer. A way to get started."
"To kill some guy?"
"Please Mr. Morrissey, spare me the details. Do you want the work or not?" He stared off to the wall and the calendar there, and glanced to the open doorway and Penny's empty desk.
"Could I have one of those Gitanes?" he said.
"I'm sorry" she said, reaching into her purse. "I should have offered you one."
She extended a silver lighter as he put the fag to his mouth. The lighter was monogrammed, 'E E K'. "EEK?" he said, taking a draw.
"My middle name is Edith she replied." He coughed and sputtered as the hard Gitane hit his lungs like a sucker punch. "So who is this guy?" he said, as she slid the stack of bills across the desk.
LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL
Penny came out of the club and got in the car.
"Will you look at this piece of junk?" she said, opening a small white box. She pulled out a long skinny chain necklace at each end of which was a single handcuff.
"It looks like something he got out of a box of Crackerjacks."
"He who?" Morrissey asked.
"Who do you think? Doyle! Then he had the nerve to wrap it around my neck. I felt like shoving my derringer into the crotch of his pants." Morrissey had to laugh at seeing Penny getting hot under the collar. "He's such a slob!" she said, yanking the chain in her hands and snapping it like a thread. She rolled down the window as we pulled away, and tossed the pieces into the gutter.
"Feel better?" he said.
"Yeh, but get this. He comes up to me while I'm getting a Shirley Temple. They don't let us buy booze if we're on the clock. Did you know that?"
"What if a customer is buying you a drink?" Morrissey asked.
"I ask for a rum and coke, and they give me a plain coke and charge the customer for the booze that really isn't in it. So, anyway," she went on. "He comes up to me with this really cheesy syrup voice, and says, "Penny,....I have a little surprise for you'. So, I gave him my best fake smile back, and say, 'Really, for me?'. So, he tells me to put my hand down in his jacket pocket and get it. Well, I felt this small round cylinder, and figured it was lipstick. So, I pull it out. Guess what it was?" Morrissey shrugged. "A red shotgun shell." He looked over at her and slowed the car down.
"What gauge?" he said.
"Do you have it?"
"No. He took it from me and said, 'Oh sweetie, you shouldn't handle that, you might get hurt'. Morrissey pulled over to the curb.
"A lot of cops have shotguns," he said. "They have their own arsenal at home. They have a thing about guns."
"I know," she replied. "I just thought it was strange though." He turned toward her and nodded. "Yeh, its a little strange. But now, I have a little surprise for you too," he said. He pulled some folded bills out of his pocket and handed them to her. "I want you to quit the club. I want you to come back to work for me." She fanned the bills out in her hands. Her face lit up.
"Five hundred dollars?!"
"Let's just call it a down payment," he said. "We've got a new client."
"Tell me," she said, tugging on his arm."
"I'll tell you in the morning, if you show up," he answered.
"I'll be there," she said excitedly.
"Good. So, I guess you need to return that bustier to the club."
"Oh" she said. "That's mine. It used to be my mom's but she gave it to me."
"Your mom was a stripper?"
"Yeh, where do you think I got those moves?"
"Penny, there's a lot I don't know about you," he said.
"Like I say, maybe its better that way," she replied with a chuckle.
He drove her over to the Biltmore.
"Penny," he said, as she got out of the car. She bent to look back at him through the window. "You might want to buy yourself a new set of luggage."
"I'll tell you in the morning."
IS A HALF TRUTH A LIE?
The bottom line is that Morrissey had to have Penny back, in more ways than one. He took the money Edith Kiriakas slid across the desk, not even sure who this guy was, or if it was worth the risk to take him down. So, he rationalized that the money she had given him was to pay for his surveillance and stalking, and gathering evidence. In so doing, he was essentially closing in on a target to be obliterated, but whether he would take that final step to the satisfaction of the client was yet uncertain. In his mind it was then, a 'conditional' contract. The final pay-off was big, but there would be money all along the way. He would cross that bridge when he came to it. It was enough of a rationalization to allow him to pocket the retainer and go emancipate Penny from the Clover Club.
IS A HALF LIE A TRUTH?
Morrissey entered the office to the smell of hot coffee. Penny was back.
"Good morning, Mr. Morrissey," she smiled, from behind her desk.
"Good morning, Miss O'Conner," he said, tipping his hat. She was wearing a lavender shirt waist with a wide white collar lapel that seemed to go all the way out to her shoulders. He hung my hat on the rack.
"Let me get a cup of coffee, Penny. Would you like one?"
"Sure," she smiled. "So, tell me about this new client."
"I will. But first, coffee. Come on into my office." He sat down behind his desk and suppressed a childish giggle of delight at the vase of flowers Penny had put there. "They're very pretty," he said, taking a sip of coffee. He had a fleeting sense that this is exactly how life is supposed to be.
He described Evelyn Kiriakas to Penny. He told her Kiriakas was feeling threatened by someone. She wanted them to tail him and find out what he's up to, get some dirt on him. She's got a lot of money, and she's willing to spend it to get this guy off her back. He skipped over the fact that Miss Kiriakas was willing to pay a huge sum to have the guy knocked off.
"So what's a classy woman like that doing in a dump town like this?" Penny asked.
"Hiding, I presume." Penny nodded.
"Yeh, it is a good place to hide." He looked at her realizing he had hit a nerve. "So, who is this creep?" she said.
"That's for us to find out. He may not even be a creep for all I know. Right now, all we have to go on is what she is telling us."
"So, you think maybe she is the creep?"
"I'm not saying that either. I'm just saying all we have right now is one small piece of a puzzle. Point is, she's willing to pay a lot of money for us to pick up the other pieces and put it together."
Shades of Grey
Morrissey wasn't ready to tell Penny what the bottom line could be. Kiriakas was wanting him to waste the guy. But it was true that, for all he knew, the guy may not be the creep he'd been led to believe. Maybe Evelyn Kiriakas has motives he don't know yet. For someone on the run, she looked pretty well put together and quite calm and calculating about the matter. For all he knew, she was trying to set him up as the fall guy to knock off someone who is in the way of her own ambition. That's the problem in this business, sometimes you don't know who you are working for, or which side you are on. Meanwhile, he'd gotten Penny back, and he was ahead on the rent, and now he needed a new suit.
THE QUESTION OF THE GUN
He sent Penny out shopping for luggage and found it so amusing she still hadn't asked why. He went to Kelly's to meet up with Mickey. Time to pay off some favors and ask for some others.
"I'm buying," he said, as they stepped up to the bar. Mickey raised his glass.
"Here's to good and evil."
"Long may they live," he retorted.
"So, how's it working out with your new assistant?" Mickey asked. "And by the way, I saw her little number at the Clover Club the other night."
"Yeah, well that's history now," Morrissey muttered. He swiveled toward Mickey on his stool. "Look, Mickey. We've been good buddies now for a long time, haven't we?"
"Hell, yeah," he answered, raising his glass again.
"So, don't take this the wrong way," Morrissey said. "But Penny is out of circulation. And, besides, you're married."
Mickey slapped him on the back.
"Aw hell, man, I'm just screwing with you. I know you're on it already. You can't blame a man for taking a sniff to the wind, can you? I mean, you gotta admit she's a walking wet dream." He reached over to Mickey's hand on the bar, tapped his ring finger, and smiled. "Aw, hell Morrissey," Mickey grumbled. Joey brought them a couple more drinks.
"Mickey," Morrissey said. "About that .45 shell shot we were talking about..."
"You mean the one that doesn't exist?" he answered.
"Yeah, that one. Who do you suppose might have slipped that one out of Evidence?"
"Could've been anybody. I remember there was talk maybe Johnny Wright took it. He was down on his luck back then, so the talk was he could've just hauled it down to the pawn shop for some quick cash. But like I say, it could have been anybody."
"What about Doyle?" Mickey begged the question with a gesture of his hands.
"Maybe. But you know Doyle. If he had picked it up he would have been bragging about it." I nodded.
"Like the time he took that .12 gauge off that gangster? Remember that?" Morrissey nodded.
"Yeh. A sawed off double barrel."
"Right. He was waving that thing all over the office. I was sure he was gonna blow a window out the way he was strutting around with it. You know he's got a stockpile of all kinds of stuff at home. He calls it his 'memorabilia'."
"Did he have a .410?"
"I don't know." Morrissey changed the subject.
"So, when's the Christmas office party this year?"
"On the 23rd. Why don't you come Morrissey? And bring your...ahem...assistant?"
"Don't get me started again, Mickey," he laughed, and threw him a slow motion fake punch to the jaw.
"Aw hell, Morrissey, I was just messing with you."
"I know. That was just a love tap, Mick." He slapped Mickey on the back. "Let's get out of here before your old lady comes down here looking for your ass."
He took Penny to lunch the next day. The dough Evelyn Kuriakas shelled out as a retainer was burning a hole in his pocket, so he took her to a nice place for a change. A little Italian joint down by the train station the DeGaurdo family had run for years.
Little Jimmy DeGuardo, grandson of Fat Joe DeGuardo came to our table with menus. Morrissey ordered a bottle of chianti. Penny had a little bohemian thing going on with her snug black chino pants hugging her ankles, and a bulky black turtleneck that fell in folds around her hips. And her eyes were done up in a smoky shade of grey giving her the appearance of a somewhat fashionable insomniac.
"I don't have any idea what to order," Penny said, running her fingers up and down the menu.
"Well, I'm getting a big bowl of Mama DeGuardo's Italian Sausage Soup. That stuff is addictive," he said.
"I'll have that too," Penny smiled.
"Here's to Evelyn Kuriakas," Morrissey said, raising his glass.
"Long may she live," Penny said. 'Maybe', he thought to himself.
"So how are we going to find this guy?" Penny asked, as they sipped their wine.
"Which guy?" he said.
"The guy our new client wants us to tail."
"I'll get to that, but right now I am stuck on this other guy. Eric Bromberg. Who killed him, and why?"
"Maybe Bromberg owed somebody some money," Penny offered.
"Yeh, but he had a wallet full of dough when they fished him out of the Wabash," Morrissey countered.
"Some kind of personal grudge, maybe," Penny said. "Or maybe Bromberg knew something or saw something he shouldn't have."
"Could be," he nodded. He stared down at the floor, his eyes catching Penny's shiny red heels. "Remember that night at O'Brian's when I told Doyle I was sending Bromberg to a hypnotist?" Penny nodded. "Doyle just blew off the whole idea that anything could come of that."
"I remember that," Penny said. "He thought it was stupid. A dead end road, he said. What about it?"
"Well, that's just it. I just got the feeling he was wanting me to drop the case ever since I first brought it up. So, I'm wondering why."
"Maybe he's trying to protect somebody," Penny said.
"Yeah, like himself, for instance," he answered.
"But, that would mean he had something to do with the Bromberg family's murder." Penny said.
"Or, as you said, he was protecting whoever else might have."
"Do you think Doyle could do something like that?" Penny said, leaning forward over the table. He shrugged.
"Back in the old days I used to admire Doyle because I thought he was capable of anything."
They sat in the car outside DeGuardo's.
"So, what do we need to do?" Penny asked, as she looked at her lips in a compact mirror. "Get him drunk, and see if he trips over himself?"
"I don't know. But if Doyle had anything to do with any of this, its gonna be a real can of worms," Morrissey said, cranking the motor and pumping the pedal. He drove off toward downtown. "I need a new suit. Do you want to go shopping?"
"Hell, yes," Penny replied.
They drove down Hulman street to Hennessey & Peck's, one of the better menswear shops he usually passed on his way to Sears & Roebucks. Penny followed him closely, looking over his shoulder with interest as he rifled through several racks of suits not sure just what he was looking for. He was monitoring her peripherally hoping to see a smile or expression that told him he was getting warm. She let out a little 'hmmmmm...' when he came to grey flannel.
A snappily dressed salesman approached with a pencil between his ear and a roll of yellow tape in his hand.
"And what are we looking for today?" he said as though he had just arrived to join a hunt in progress. Penny turned to him and said,
"We were looking for something in oh, lets say, a silver grey sharkskin?" The salesman smiled and glanced at Morrissey.
"Yes, Sharkskin," Morrissey said. He was thinking, 'where did all this 'we' come from? And now we are a triangle, no less. And I don't even know this guy's name.'
"Right this way, please." The tailor turned and sauntered down the aisle with Penny right behind him. Morrissey tried to keep up. He felt like a prisoner of love being led away to some chamber, his eyes helplessly drawn to Penny's ass as her shoes clicked sharply along the tile floor. He half expected to see sparks flying out beneath those red heels.
They walked through some curtains in a doorway and into a room of large tables and shelves orderly stocked in upright bolts of fabric. The tailor pulled one down and laid it out on the table.
"This is our latest sharkskin. It just arrived last week." Penny swept her hand out over the fabric.
"It's nice," she said, smiling at Morrissey.
"Let's go with it," he said. Penny strolled along the walls of fabric while the clerk unrolled his yellow tape and began to measure him.
"I get a funny feeling when a man runs his hands up between my legs," he muttered, but the tailor ignored the remark. They walked to the front of the store to complete the order.
"Would you like a three inch lapel, or a two?"
"Two," Penny said. Morrissey nodded.
"And three button, or two button?"
"Three," Penny said. Morrissey nodded.
"One of these days," Morrissey thought to himself, "if I ever write my own philosophy book, the first principle would be that if a woman wants you, you're a dead duck. And of course the corollary would be that, a woman knows more about what you need than you do. In fact, in some cases, you are the last to know."
The suit would be ready Thursday afternoon. And Morrissey was 600 bucks lighter. "You would think at that price they would throw in a pair of shoes," he mumbled.
THE BIGGER THEY ARE, THE HARDER THEY FALL
They cruised back south toward the neighborhood. He took a meandering zigzagging route.
"Doesn't Doyle live somewhere around here?" Penny said, looking at the row of apartment buildings, four squares, and boarding houses filing by.
"Yeah, right up here on the next block," he answered. He pulled in to the curb in front of an aging brownstone, and glanced up to the second floor.
"I wonder if he's home," he said quietly.
"I don't see his car," Penny said.
"Me either. Let's take a ride around the block." There was no sign of Doyle's rusted out Pontiac. He pulled up to the same spot, and turned off the motor. "Why don't you sit tight, I'm gonna go knock on his door. I won't be long."
"I want to go with you," Penny said, opening her door. They walked up the big limestone front steps side by side.'
"If he's home, we'll just ask him if he wants to go get a drink," he said to Penny as he opened the door to the lobby.
Doyle is #37," he said, as they walked the thread-worn carpet on the second floor. The hallway had a musty stagnant smell to it. He stopped in front of Doyle's door, and smiled at Penny. "Hopefully, he'll invite us in," he said. He gave three sharp raps of his knuckles on the dark oak door and paused. There was no hint of sound from the other side. He knocked again, and waited. Still nothing.
"He's probably down at O'Brian's already," Penny said. Morrissey nodded and fished down into his trouser pocket.
"What's that," Penny said, as he pulled out a jack knife pick set.
"I thought maybe we might take a little look-see around Doyle's place," he said, fanning the picks out and picking out the long hook in the middle. He inserted it into the brass lock and fished around. "Just a quick in and out, Penny, ok?"
"Ok," she whispered. The long hook didn't work, so he moved on to the half-diamond ball pick.
"Uh huh," he muttered under his breath at the crisp short click. He turned the knob taking a quick glance down the hall. He closed the door quietly behind them. "Take a look in that desk over there, Penny. Be careful what you touch," he whispered. He stepped quietly to the bedroom door. An empty whiskey bottle lay on the floor beside Doyle's bed. The room reeked in more ways than one. He looked over the clutter atop the chest, and then slowly began to open each drawer. He found several letters at the back of the bottom drawer. Letters addressed to 'James Doyle'. And on the back the name and address of Roberta Bromberg. He unfolded one that began, 'My darling James,'. He stuffed it quickly back in the envelope and returned the letters to the back of the drawer. That was all he needed to know. His mind was racing.
"Cully, come here," Penny whispered loudly. She was at the desk motioning to him with her hand. He looked to where she nodded, down into the open file drawer on the right. At the bottom lay a .45 caliber .410 shot shell revolver. He bent to pick it up. The chamber was empty. The serial number typically found on the side above the trigger guard had been filed away. He stuffed it into his pocket.
PEELING THE ONION BACK
"Well, well," came a familiar raspy voice behind them. It was Doyle in the doorway with a gun leveled at them.
"Doyle," Morrissey said. "We just came by to see if you wanted to go get a drink."
"Oh, shut up, and sit your asses down on the couch," Doyle muttered. He walked closer as they sat down. "Looks more like Nancy Drew on a date with one of the Hardy Boys to me. Don't move," he said, as he walked over to the desk. He opened the file drawer and glanced inside. "Where is it?"
"You mean that shot shell you stole out of Evidence?"
"Where is it?" he demanded in an angry voice.
"It's right here in my pocket," Morrissey said, patting his coat.
"Toss it out here on the floor," he said.
"Why don't you come and get it?" he answered.
"Would you like me to kill you first, Morrissey? Or, your little girlfriend here?"
He pointed the gun at Penny.
"Ok, ok," Morrissey said. He tossed the .45 out onto the floor.
"Did you kill the Bromberg family?" Penny asked.
"What if I did?" he said, cocking the hammer back on his 38. "The bitch had it coming."
"What was it, Doyle? Did she walk away? Was that it?" Morrissey sneered.
"That whore wasn't worth my time," he scowled.
"Tell me Doyle, did you seduce her, or just rape her?"
"I never made a woman do what she didn't want to do," he said, angrily waving his gun in Morrissey's face.
"Oh face it Doyle. You never could take it when a woman pushed you away. You had to get even."
"Why didn't you kill the baby?" Penny asked.
"You mean Eric, my son?"
"Eric was your son?" Penny said, her jaw dropping.
"The son he just murdered and threw in the river," Morrissey sneered.
"Oh fuck you, Morrissey," Doyle shouted.
"Fuck me?" he said, as he pointed the gun at Morrissey's face.
"Go ahead," Morrissey shouted. "Do you think I'm afraid to die?"
The first shot grazed the top of Morrissey's shoe and splintered the floor. The second shot punched a hole in the middle of Doyle's forehead. He staggered backward as though propelled by the force of the stream of blood spurting from his head. He hit the wall with a thud and then slid slowly down it like a giant glob of melting lard. Morrissey looked over at Penny and the slender curl of smoke rising from the burnt black hole in her brown leather purse. Her hand was shaking violently as she pulled it out and dropped her snub nose .38 on the floor. He picked it up and pulled on her arm.
"Let's get out of here. They headed for the door. He stopped and ran back to the bedroom and grabbed the letters from Roberta Bromberg and tossed them at Doyle's body.
"That should tell the boys downtown something, if not everything," he said, as they ran down the hall to the stairs. They drove west to the river. He slowed down on the bridge and handed Penny her gun.
"Toss it," he said. They pulled into Benton Park on the other side and stopped beneath a tree overlooking the river. He stared out the water and back to the city. "I think its time for you to pack your bags, Penny," he said.
"What do you mean?" Penny asked. He pulled an envelope out of his vest pocket and handed it to her. She opened it.
"Two tickets to Vegas?"
"Call it a working vacation compliments of Evelyn Kiriakas. It's the last known whereabouts of this guy she was talking about. Of course, you don't have to go, if you don't want to."
"Are you kidding?" Penny said.
"One more thing, empty your purse out."
"Just do it Penny, and hurry up." She dumped her purse onto her lap. He took it and walked down to the water's edge and tossed it in. He watched until it sank. Doyle has had it coming for a long time now. He thought of that photo of Roberta Bromberg on the kitchen floor as he walked back to the car. Funny how fast Doyle came unglued once he thought that the Bromberg kid might actually remember something about what happened that day. He got back in the car and cranked the motor.
"So, do I get a raise now?" Penny asked.
"Big time," he said, glancing over at her. "Of course, I'm gonna have to deduct a little for the pair of shoes you ruined." She laughed.
"So when do we leave for Vegas?" she asked.
"Thursday afternoon, as soon as I pick up my new suit."
Chapter Two: JOE BLOW
THE NEXT DAY'S NEWS
The day after Doyle went down, newspaper men and homicide dicks came knocking on the office door, as we expected. Morrissey told Penny to play a stern Miss O'Conner and defer all questions to her boss, Mr. Morrissey. He talked to homicide first. They were sorry to inform him that his partner of long ago, James Doyle, had been ruthlessly gunned down in his own apartment. Morrissey leaned back in his chair and shook his head sadly.
"I always told him one day some jealous husband was going to come looking for him. But, he wouldn't listen."
"Yeh, well hold onto your hat Morrissey, we found a .45 shot shell pistol on his apartment floor. The one that killed your client, Eric Bromberg, in fact."
"Doyle?" he said, in feigned disbelief.
"Looks like it," the dick went on. "And he had motive too,are you ready for this?"
"I guess I'd believe anything at this point," Morrissey replied, throwing his hands up.
"Remember Roberta Bromberg?"
"Of course," he said. "He was my client's mother."
"Right," the Dick said. "But here's the kicker. We found love letters from Roberta Bromberg to Doyle in his apartment too. And they suggest that Doyle was Eric Bromberg's father."
"You've got to be kidding," Morrissey said.
The dick stood to go.
"'I kid you not', to quote Jack Paar. Sorry for the sorry story," he said. "But, seeing as how Eric Bromberg was a client of yours, I figured you'd want to know."
Yeah, thanks," Morrissey said.
What was that kid hiring you for anyway?" the dick asked.
"He was wanting me to look in to what really happened to his family."
"Well, now we know. Too bad he's not around to hear the news."
"So who killed Doyle?" Morrissey asked. He shrugged.
"Who knows? Who cares?" he answered. "See ya' Morrissey. Drop by downtown some day."
"I will," he replied. He declined to comment to the news hounds, figuring homicide would tell them all about it. They'll have the bragging rights on closing a cold case. Probably even get to shake the mayor's hand.
LATE NIGHT CONVERSATION
Penny and Morrissey would be leaving for Vegas the next day, so he arranged to meet with Evelyn Kiriakas one more time. She was staying at the old Wilshire Hotel. In fact, she had the penthouse suite. Front desk called her before allowing him on the elevator to make sure he was on the up and up. Besides, you can't get to the penthouse by pushing a button for a floor. It required a key and the company of a bellboy to unlock it. The elevator opened to a small but elegant foyer. And only one door which opened as he stepped out.
"Come in, Mr. Morrisey," she said. She was dressed in a simple silver satin gown that seemed to love her supple body.
"Nice hideout," he said, looking about the posh interior of her suite.
"It will do for now," she replied, following him as he went to the wall of windows that turned Terre Haute at night into a postcard.
"Looking at that twinkling jewel down there, you wouldn't think it could be so ugly in the light of day," he mused.
"Yes," she said. It's much nicer at night, and twenty stories up behind plate glass. But, I'd rather be in my own home."
"Where is your home, Miss Kiriakas?"
"Palm Beach," she said, as she leaned back into a pale green velveteen overstuffed couch. "Frankly, I am afraid to go there now. It's too dangerous for me." Morrissey took a seat in the chair near her feet and looked at her. He felt a bit like a psychoanalyst about to probe into someone's soul.
"Would you like to tell me a little bit more about that, Miss Kiriakas?"
"Not really," she said, drawing a smoke from a silver case. "And call me Evelyn please. It sounds somehow warmer, and I feel quite cold lately. May I call you Culln?"
"Of course, or Cully," he answered.
She stretched her legs out on the couch.
"Cully," she said, looking lazily over at him as she held her cigarette to her lips. "Would it be too forward of me to ask if you would massage my feet? They are really killing me." He pulled his chair up, and she swung her feet over onto his lap. "You're such a dear," She said, as he ran his hands lightly down from her ankles to her maroon painted toes. "I think what I need most right now Cully, is to know for certain that Joseph Bonaventure is, in fact, in Vegas. I want you to call me here as soon as you know. It will help me sleep at night." She winced slightly as he circled his thumbs firmly beneath the balls of her feet. "I like it that you work both my feet at the same time," she said. "So often a masseur will work them one at a time, always making the other one feel left out."
"Mmhmm," he said, running the fingers of both his hands through the toes of both her feet.
"Yes," she said sleepily. "Just like that. That's what I'm talking about."
He reminded her that he was leaving for Vegas the next day, and assured her he would call that night to let her know he had arrived. He stood to leave. "Cully," she said, not bothering to get up, "There's an envelope for you on the table by the door." He picked up the envelope as he opened the door.
"Good night, Evelyn."
"Good night, Cully. And Cully?"
"Let's not call him by his real name from here on out. Let's just call him 'Joe Blow'."
"You've got it," he said, closing the door behind him.
He looked into the envelope as the elevator brought him slowly back down to earth. Another three grand. He brought his fingers up to his face and sniffed. Dior. The smell of pampered feet.
THE ART OF BEING SOMEONE ELSE
Morrissey caught a cab that afternoon and went to pick up Penny at the Biltmore. The doorman had her luggage on the sidewalk, and Penny was waiting in her black chinos and sweater. Black sun glasses too. Just yesterday it seems, she was an exotic dancer and now she's faux-beatnik. He had to smile remembering that burning bullet hole in her purse and the bloody hole in Doyle's head. He thought about getting her a switchblade for Christmas. Maybe a switchblade with 'Precious' engraved in the handle. "I must be in love," he mumbled to himself.
He threw the cabbie a ten-spot to wait while they went into Hennessey and Peck's to pick up his suit. Penny picked out a pin-striped shirt, and of all things, a banana yellow skinny tie. And then she steered him away from some wingtips and handed him a pair of black penny loafers. There was something Freudian about that. He told the clerk to throw away his old suit. "Gladly," the tailor replied.
"You look cool," Penny smiled. Actually, he was feeling quite like a pimp.
Penny had done her homework. On the way to the airport she briefed him about Vegas.
"Do you know what 'Las Vegas' means?" she asked.
"A knife, a fork, a bottle and a cork?" he replied.
"No," Penny answered. "That's New York. It means 'the meadows'." Morrissey had an image of feathered show girls running through tall grass.
He was thinking about this Joe Blow and what he might be up to. Maybe drugs? Gambling? Girls? All he really knew is that he had a solid gold upper front tooth. And if he's working for the mob, he could be into any number of things. One thing for sure, if he's trying to carry out a hit on the lovely likes of Evelyn Kiriakas, he's gotta be one cold son of a bitch. That's one way to look at it.
"Did you know there is a Frederick's of Hollywood on the strip?" Penny said.
"Why does that not surprise me? Did you know the 'g' in Vegas stands for 'g-string'?"
On the other hand, Evelyn Kiriakas was clearly a smooth operator, he thought to myself. She had him around her little finger in no time, playing with her toes. She had a helluva lot of dough, and a home in Palm Beach. How did she get her hands on all that money? However she came by it, she seems to have pissed off the mob. In which case, if he took out Joe Blow he could wind up with the mob on his own ass. She didn't seem like your typical Miami kept woman. Her name sounded Greek. But somehow, in his mind, she seemed French. In fact, she reminded him of a girl he met back in the war when they were marching up through the South of France.
Taking off in the small Caravelle was a bit of a thrill. Gone was the world of propellers. They rocketed into the sky on the thrust of two Rolls Royce turbojet engines. Terre Haute became a small dark smudge on the ground real fast. Then the plane nosed up through the clouds and on into to a very quiet wide world of blue. Morrissey's ears popped and Penny's voice seemed suddenly loud as she read to him from the tourist guide to Las Vegas she had purchased at the airport.
"Where should we stay?" she asked. "There's the Thunderbird, the Flamingo, the Sands, the Tropicana, the Riviera...."
"Let's stay at the Moulin Rouge," he suggested. It might have made more sense to stay at the Flamingo, Bugsy Siegel's place, but he was in a French state of mind. Besides, Joe Louis owned the Moulin Rouge, and he was always a big fan of the 'Brown Bomber'.
He told Penny there were a lot of acts in Las Vegas, and they weren't all beneath a spotlight on a stage.
"Everybody's got an act. And that's what we need."
"So, what's our act?" she asked.
"You're my wife. And you name isn't Penny O'Conner."
"What is it?" she giggled.
"What would you like it to be?"
"Lulu," she said.
"You'd make a good Lulu," he said, looking at her thick red hair. "Lulu O'Shea."
So, who are you?" Penny asked.
"Marcus. Marcus O'Shea, your husband." A stewardess in a baby blue suit approached.
"Something to drink?" she asked.
"What do you want, Lulu?" Penny put her arm in his, and leaned over to look at the cart.
"Oh, I don't know, Marcus," she said. "You order for me."
"We'll have two gin and tonics," he said.
Penny looked out the window as she sipped her drink.
"I like being Lulu," she said.
"You know, you're pretty good at this game, aren't you?" he said.
"I've been a liar all my life."
The seat belt light came on, and the plane began to float down through the clouds. Morrissey listened the landing gear cranking down. He glanced over at Penny's pained expression as she wiggled a finger in her ear. He began to wonder about Penny. He even wondered if her name really was Penny.
THE COLOR OF ROUGE
The Moulin Rouge was a very happening place. Unlike all the other mushy white bread establishments, the Rouge was a place of color. It was quite popular with blacks who were considered 'undesirable' at the other establishments. Asians seemed to like it too. Morrissey signed them in as Mr. and Mrs. Marcus O'Shea. Penny giggled as they got to their room.
"Are you going to carry me over the threshold?"
"You mean we're newlyweds?"
"Of course we are," she said. "I didn't even know you before I met you on the plane." He picked her up, carried her in, threw her on the bed and looked down at her. "Did you bring that bustier with you?" he said.
"No," she giggled. "But I could get another one at Fredericks." Somehow he managed to keep his pants on, but it seemed only a matter of time before that might get impossible. He sat on the side of the bed.
"We're gonna have to play it real careful in this town, Penny."
"I'm not Penny," she said. "I'm Lulu."
Lulu and Marcus went out to eat. The sky was a deepening pink. A light warm wind blew along the strip lofting dust, newspaper, tourist brochures, and such into the air. The Desert Inn had a sky room with a view of the distant desert. The Nevada Proving Grounds were some 65 miles out in that direction, and on certain days the room was filled with tourists awaiting an announced nuclear test. They say you could see the mushroom clouds on the horizon. But this wasn't one of those days.
they filled their plates from the impressive smorgasbord buffet, and ordered wine.
"Let's talk about the case," Lulu said.
"Let's eat first," he replied. "We can talk that out when we get back to our room. Keep your eyes peeled though for anyone with a gold front tooth." He thought about Evelyn Kiriakas as they ate. He couldn't quite see her in the drug underworld. She didn't seem dirty enough for that. He could imagine her in the diamond trade though. Palm Beach is a place of sparkling stones on well manicured fingers. It also crossed my mind, that she could be moving girls. Classy girls like herself.
THE GLARE OF NIGHT
When we stepped back onto the strip it was night, and the whole avenue was pulsing lights and candy-colored neon. The sidewalks had gotten busy with people walking in all directions. The big monster was hungry for more money, and the casinos were filling up with people from all over coming to pay homage to greed and lust, and lay their offerings down. They stopped in front of the Dunes. A barker was beckoning to all who passed. The pitch was 'naked ladies'. The Dunes was one of the first clubs to feature topless dancers, but some others were catching on.
"You want to see how they do it here in Vegas?" he said to Lulu. She nodded enthusiastically. They went in, and took a small round table a few rows back from the stage. He bought another round of drinks as the show began. Gone now was the sweet tease of a fan dancer in a burlesque joint. In its place, Minsky's Follies. A chorus line of long legged show girls with feather boas and plumage about their heads that would make a peacock jealous. It was basically a meandering tit parade that was more numbing than titillating. Quite unlike Penny's quick turn and flash that left men panting for more. Penny was, you might say, an old fashioned kind of girl.
Lulu elbowed him and nodded to a man making his way through the rows of crowded tables. A tall man with greasy black hair and a blue lounge jacket with a black lapel. He was shaking hands here and there, and slapping backs. And he was flashing a large gold tooth. As he came their way, Morrissey leaned close to Lulu.
"Kiss me," he said. The guy strolled past them. He could tell by Lulu's kiss she was getting drunk. "Let's go," he said, standing and taking her hand. He glanced at the man still wandering through the crowd who seemed to know everybody, or acted like he did.
A row of cabs sat idling out front of the Dunes. He helped Lulu in. She rested her head on his shoulder as they headed back to the Moulin Rouge. She was pretty tipsy as they got back to their room, tripping while trying to kick off her shoes. She fell onto the bed with her legs hanging off. Marcos swung her legs up, adjusted her pillow, and thought about undressing her. But instead, went into the bathroom and splashed off. It had been a long day, there was a certain jet lag setting in. He picked up the phone to call Evelyn Kiriakas.
She sounded sleepy on the phone.
"I think we found your man," he said. He described him, and she agreed it had to be him.
"He was at the Dunes," Morrissey said.
"That sounds about right," she said.
"Is he some kind of lady's man?" he asked.
"I wouldn't say that," Kiriakas answered in a soft breathy voice. "Let's just say, he steals women. In fact, he stole several from me."
"We're going to track him," he said. "I'll call you tomorrow night."
"Be careful," she said softly. "He's got eyes in the back of his head."
"Evelyn, listen. If you call here for any reason, ask for Marcus O'Shea."
"I like the name Marcus," she said. "It's much better than 'Cully'."
He sat on the couch staring at Lulu out cold on the bed. He knew it. Joe Blow was dealing in women. So was Evelyn Kiriakas. He was beginning to see what the fuss was all about. He had a hunch she was dealing classy hookers to the well heeled fat cats of Palm Beach and Miami. Most likely, the mob was wanting to absorb her business, she probably refused. She was there first, long before the Chicago outfit began moving in on the Miami scene. So they put a price on her head to get her out of the way. Taking out Joe Blow was her way of letting them know she would not go down easy. And Morrissey was her gun.
Marcos filled Lulu in over brunch on the veranda. Kiriakas and Joe Blow were both dealing women. The sex trade. Joe stole a couple of her girls away. She wants revenge.
"What kind of revenge?" Lulu asked.
"Kiriakas wants him to be neutralized, and out of her way permanently."
"Like dead, permanently?" Lulu said, looking up from her crepes. He nodded.
"Yeah. Something like that."
"And Joe Blow is working for the mob?"
"Yeah. Something like that. And they both want to kill each other. So, it's a cat and mouse game."
"And the mouse being...?" Lulu asked.
"The mouse being Evelyn Kiriakas, I think. "They're both criminals, but I would say she's the lighter shade of evil."
"So, what are we, Marcus? Lulu asked.
"You might say we are the monkeys in the middle. Evelyn Kiriakas's monkeys."
"So, what's next?" Lulu said, sipping her coffee.
"Well, I think we low-key it a couple of days. Keep an eye out for him coming and going from the Dunes. But, we gotta be careful, Lulu. Joe Blow wouldn't be one to mess around. If he caught on to us, he could turn the table around real fast. The thing I would like most though, is to chum up to him. Get him bragging. Maybe find out more about the Palm Beach drama. That won't be easy."
Lulu leaned forward across the table.
"Marcus, we're newlyweds. We hang around the club pretending to be madly in love. We are deliriously happy, and keeping an eye on Joe Blow all the while. So, I think we should check out of the Moulin Rouge, and into the Sands. What do you think?"
"You think we could pull that off?"
"I like being Lulu. Of course it would be easier if we were really pretend-married."
"We are really pretend-married," he said.
"But we haven't had a pretend wedding, or pretended to say I do," Lulu replied. "If we're going to play the game, we really have to play it."
"You're getting pretty damn good at this game pretty damn fast," Marcos answered.
"You're damn right," Lulu laughed.
Morrissey soon realized Penny had missed her calling. She had some natural kind of undercover cop head. Meanwhile, he the seasoned pro, was almost beside himself. He had this longing, this desire for Penny he hadn't even confessed. And meanwhile the fake Marcos, was about to get fake married to fake Lulu.
They packed their bags and checked out of the Moulin Rouge. They climbed into a cab and Marcos told the driver to take them to the Dunes.
"No," Lulu said. "We have to get married first." The cabbie snickered.
"I got you kids covered," he said, pulling a u-turn in the street and heading in the other direction. He pulled up in front of a small white chapel, turned, smiled, and began to sing.
"I wish you bluebirds in the spring,
to give your heart a song to sing,
And then a kiss,
but more than this,
I wish you love."
It wasn't exactly Sinatra, but Marcos threw him an extra ten with the fare. "If, I'm getting married, I might as well live it up," he mumbled.
They walked the sidewalk up to the church and stopped to read the sign. 'Twenty dollars for the basic ceremony. Twenty dollars for filing fees. Gratuity optional. Pay on the way out.'
"I just thought of something," he said to Lulu. "I don't know your maiden name."
She thought about it as he opened the door.
"Um, Sketcher. Lulu Sketcher," she said, under her breath.
We rang the bell at the desk and Marco could hear the tv in the backroom turn off. A man appeared through a door, buttoning a clerical collar around his neck. He was followed by a woman.
"Such a lovely couple," he said with a smile. "Let's stand here in the marrying corner."
The marrying corner had drapes on the walls, and a small podium flanked with two vases of artificial flowers perched on fluted Greek column pedestals. He picked up his Bible and motioned for them to stand close in front of him. His wife, as she turned out to be, stood to one side to witness their holy oath. There was a minute or so of blah blah blah, and then, 'Do you Marcus O'Shea?....and Do you, Lulu Sketcher?'...and you may now kiss the bride."
Morrissey know what was to become of him and his longings for Penny, but, Marcus, was making great time with Lulu. He planted a big one on her, and tipped the reverend a twenty.
They left as Mr. and Mrs O'Shea. The reverend's wife showered them with a handful of rice free of charge, and they stepped out to the curb to hail a cab. To Morrissey it all seemed funny, but frankly, it was also beginning to drive him a little bit nuts.
THEIR FIRST REAL/FAKE NIGHT
They checked into the Dunes and consummated their fake marriage with real sex. Lulu was a wildcat. After a bit of lazy lounging and a couple of cigarettes, they decided to get dressed and go down to the club.
"Lulu," he said, on the elevator down. "I think I should take you to Hollywood. I could be your agent."
"You can't be my agent, you're my husband."
"I could be your husband/agent. I could make you a star." She smirked.
"I kinda like that. Yeah, let's go with it."
HONEYMOON IN VEGAS
Basically, over the next several days we hung out at the Dunes trying to be conspicuously in love. Lulu got a little bikini at Frederick's which cost a fortune given the tiny scraps of cloth and string it was made of. But, Marcos had to admit he enjoyed rubbing her down poolside with sun tan lotion. He would leave her there on the chaise lounge and go have a drink, keeping an eye on her out the window. There were plenty of rats strolling by her checking out the cheese, but no Joe Blow.
They hung around the casino making frequent remarks about just being married. Lulu had a way of bending over the craps table rolling dice that turned many a head. Finally, Joe Blow showed with a couple of sluts clinging to him, and sat down at the Blackjack table. Lulu did a nice job playing dizzy drunken bride as she walked over and sat down next to him.
"Marcos darling, I need more chips," she said with a pout.
"Here you go, baby," Marcos said, setting a stack down. It was only a matter of several minutes and two buttons loosened on her blouse before she had Mr. Blow teaching her how to play the game.
"So should I tell him to hit me?" Lulu said, with a charm that reminded Marcos of Penny, a girl he used to know. Blow leaned his head next to hers and looked at her cards.
"No, sweetheart," he said. "Just stick right where you are." What a grease ball. He even had his arm around her. Marcos tapped Lulu's shoulder.
"Come on, love. We need to go eat if we're going to catch the Follies."
"Thanks a lot, Mister," she said to Blow. Marcos could tell he was watching them as they walked away.
We went back to the room and Marcos lounged on the bed watching Lulu slip into a silver lame dress.
"I think we might get lucky tonight, Marcos," she said, adjusting the bodice in front of the mirror.
"Did you get that at Frederick's too?" he asked, looking at the way her dress conformed to every curve.
"Uh huh, and I got something else too. I'll show you later. Do you still love me, Marcos?" she teased.
"Yes Lulu, of course. I've got my mind on work though. Look, if Joe Blow shows at the club, we'll invite him over for a drink. He may come onto you. He needs to understand that your husband is your agent. So, sit back and look hot, and let me talk to him."
"So, do I look hot?" Lulu said, doing a slow turn.
"Too hot," he grumbled.
LULU HITS THE MARK
They took a table at the club and sipped martinis as the tit parade filed endlessly back and forth across the stage. Marcos spotted Blow over at the bar with a young thing on his arm, and slapping some guy on the back. His guess was that Blow was talking to some John. They shook hands, and young thing strolled off with the stranger. Marcos got up and stepped up next to Blow. "Hey," he said. "My wife Lulu wants me to buy you a drink." He nodded his head toward Lulu, who smiled and waved to Blow. Blow glanced over to her, and then back to Marcos.
"I've got a drink already," he said.
"Well, come on over and say hi. She just wants to thank you for showing her how to play Blackjack."
He laughed. "Oh, yeah." As though it was something he had forgotten. He followed Marcos over to the table.
"Lulu, this is..."
"J.B." Blow said, reaching to take her hand.
"Have a seat, J.B." Marcos said, glibly. Lulu leaned toward him as he sat down.
"Thank you sooo much for showing me how to play Blackjack," she chirped. "I won thirty dollars today!"
"Well, that calls for a toast," J.B. said, flashing a smile and his glittering slimy gold tooth. "So, honeymooners, eh?" he said.
Lulu reached for Marco's arm and squeezed it.
"Yes, we just got married yesterday," she giggled. "And now we are going to Hollywood." Marcos nodded along. "Marcos says I am definitely star material."
"That's right, sweetheart," Marcos said, giving her an adoring look.
"Hollywood?" Blow said. "The big screen? Yeah, I could imagine that." He was looking her up and down. "Have you done any acting,?"
"Well, not really. I did a car commercial once." He leaned back in his chair, and sloshed the ice around in his drink.
THE COME ON
"You look like real sweet folks," he said. "And I wouldn't want to rain on anybody's party, but Hollywood chews pretty girls like you up and spits them out all the time. Especially, if you don't have experience." He glanced to Marcos and shook his head. "You don't want to go there. Not without an agent who knows the ropes."
"Marcos is my agent, aren't you, Marcos?" Lulu said. Marcos nodded. He kinda snickered, and took a drink. Then he leaned forward to both of them with a different tune.
"Look, I've been in this business for a long time. So, believe me, you need someone who knows what they are doing before you go knocking on studio doors." He looked to Lulu. "You're beautiful, really. A breath of fresh air. You want my advice?"
Lulu nodded enthusiastically.
"Stick around Vegas awhile. Get your feet wet. Get to know a few people. If you want to know the truth, there is no road to Hollywood that doesn't pass through Vegas first. I know, because I'm in the business. I could set you up with some work here that would be invaluable to your career."
"What kind of work are you referring to," Marcos said, skeptically.
"Look," he said. "I'm not trying to horn in here, or cut you out of the action. Look at her," he said waving his hand toward Lulu. "She's a drop-dead gorgeous dame.
I can help you get her to the screen. But, its no skin off my back. I'm just telling you, you're a long ways from Kansas." Marcos nodded.
"So, what does Vegas have to offer Lulu?" he said, keeping up the skeptical front.
"You want to know how I'd go about it?" Blow said. "I'd set up a few appearances at a few select parties, introduce her to people who have power and influence. People who could put her on the road to Hollywood. Trust me, I could get Lulu an audition in 24 hours."
"An audition for what?" Marcos asked.
"That would depend on who we're talking to. What they have to offer. They throw us a deal, we can take it or leave it. You'll have the last word. If you don't like the deal, you walk away. Playing hard-to-get works in this business, anyway."
"What do you think, Lulu?" Marcos said.
"Well," she said, smiling over to Blow. "I'm always up for a party, and, besides we're having fun here, so why don't we stay a few more days, honey?"
"If you want to bring Lulu to my office tomorrow, I'll run her through a little audition, take some photos, and we'll get started."
"Well, you're moving a bit fast for me," Marcos said.
"Look, like I say, I'm not trying to cut in. You're her agent. I'm just saying I could be your catalyst in launching her career for a small percentage. Think it over." He stood to go, looking over at Lulu. "You could really go places, but you're going to need a guide to get you there. Here's my card." Lulu reached to take it. "Best of luck to you in any respect, young lady." He sauntered off without looking back.
Marcos and Lulu sat in their room on the 3rd floor overlooking the pool. Marcos stared at Joe Blow's Card. It was black with neon blue lettering that read: "Bonaventure's Ventures, Inc." The card matched his lounge jacket perfectly.
"I think I should meet with him, Marcos," Lulu said. "We could get a better idea of what he's up to."
"I think what he's up to is pretty obvious," he answered. "He wants to pimp you to some fat cat and turn some dollars on your ass. But maybe you could check him out, see what kind of routine he uses to rope girls in."
"He said he could run me through a little audition," Lulu said.
"Oh sure. He'll want you on your knees for a screen test."
"I wouldn't go down on that slime ball for anything," Lulu said. "I could give him a little dance though. A tease. He'd be the one down on his knees."
"I don't want him to touch you Lulu," Marcos said. She laughed.
"I'd love to bitch-slap him if he tried."
"Lulu," he said, walking over to her. "We know he's a dope. A complete jerk. An asshole. But, he's a dangerous one." He walked over to his coat and picked it up off the bed. "I got you a little present while you were shopping the other day," he said, reaching into the inside pocket. "A wedding present."
"Really?" Lulu smiled. "A ring, maybe?"
"Better than that," he said, producing a small black box about 5 inches long.
"No," said as he handed it to her. She sat down on the side of the bed and opened the box. She looked at the thin dark item inside.
"I'm not sure what it is, but its beautiful," she said, removing it from the box. Marcos sat down next to her.
"It's a stiletto. Spring loaded. Let me show you," he said.
"I love the little hearts on the side," Lulu said. It was a small blade, 4 inches long when extended. A petite instrument, you might say. The thin handle was a polished African blackwood. And on each side, there was an inlaid abalone heart.
"I thought you might like it," Marcos smiled. He pointed to a small silver button near the front end of the handle. "See this button? All you do is press it down with your thumb, and then squeeze the handle tight." He put it in her hand and turned her wrist away from me.
"Push down," she said. "And squeeze." There was a sharp metallic click as the blade sprang out from the front of the handle.
"Wow!" Lulu said. "This is the most romantic thing anyone ever gave me."
"Who just said that?" Marcus chuckled. "Lulu or Penny?"
"Both of us," she said, turning to hug him. He reached for her arm.
"Careful with the blade," he said. "Its honed on both edges."
"I have a little surprise for you too," Lulu said. "I'll be right back." She disappeared into the bathroom. Marcus sat by the window, and looked down to the pool. Some macho bronze buffoon with a thick gold chain dangling down on his hairy chest appeared to be modelling his bright pink speedo to two young bikini babes in the water. Vegas is a place of players and the would be played. Predators and prey. He turned as the bathroom door swung open to no one there.
"Are you ready?" she called.
"Yeh, ready," he said. She stepped out in a dark green emerald bustier with black silky fringe hanging down over the bare flesh of her thighs where her fishnet stockings took over.
"Lulu. There is no way you are wearing that tomorrow for you know who." She laughed, and beckoned to him with her finger. He walked over to her and reached for her waist. She shoved him onto the bed, and crawled up over him.
"This is for your eyes only, you big dope," she said, pushing his chest down with her palms as she straddled his hips. Her head swayed side to side sweeping her red hair over her bare shoulders. Her hips rocked back and forth. My hands slipped down her back cradling her curves.
"What's this?" he said, feeling a slightly stiff place on her ass. Her hair hung down over his face.
"My stiletto," she whispered in his ear, as her fingers fumbled to unbuckle his belt.
A CERTAIN MELODY
Marcus sat up on the side of the bed and picked up the phone. Lulu was curled up asleep. He dialed Evelyn's number, and stared down at Lulu's bustier and nylons on the floor as he listened to the distant phone ringing in his ear. Her hello was soft and slurred.
"Sorry," he said. "I keep forgetting its a bit later where you are."
"What about Joe?" she said. Marcus pictured her head on a satin pillow with the phone close to her lips.
"We're closing in on him. Is there anything else you want to tell me?" he asked.
"If perchance, you stumble upon his records, I am looking for Melody Johansson. She was my favorite girl. He did something with her, put her somewhere. I'd like to find her if she's still alive."
"Melody Johansson," he repeated. "What does she look like?"
"Mr. Morrissey, by now you should know that women are like chameleons. She may not even look like I remember her looking. But she was tall and bony then, a Danish platinum delight. She had a head to toe complexion almost a blueish white like you might see in a morgue. There's a very small tattoo of a yellow butterfly on her neck. Of course, I would pay you an additional allowance should you try to track her down."
"I'll call you tomorrow night, Evelyn."
"No," she answered, "Call me the moment it's over, and not a moment later."
"Goodnight," she whispered back.
THE BUSINESS MEETING
Lulu had an appointment to meet Joe Blow in his office the next afternoon. They slept late. Marcus woke to the sound of Lulu singing in the shower. He rolled over and looked at the clock. 11AM. Enough time for lunch, and then they would be on to Joe Blow, and who knows what.
Blow's office was on the south side of town. Not much going on. Small businesses in aging buildings. A barber shop. A Chinese restaurant. A pawn shop. A bar. Blow's office was across from the bar on the second floor of a two story brick. The store front windows were draped in black cloth as though tacked into place. They went into the foyer and climbed the stairs. His door was at the top. It had a sign on it, 'Bonaventure's Ventures, Inc.' They knocked.
"Nice and easy," Marcus said to Lulu through his teeth.
Blow opened the door.
"Hello Lulu, come right in. Marcus, good to see you." He shook Marco's hand enthusiastically. It was a small office. A desk. A couple of padded leather chairs. A side table with a folded newspaper, and an ashtray. There was a big over-stuffed couch against the wall. Upon the couch sat a skinny girl with straight black hair in a well combed bob. She had her legs crossed, barefooted, her heels lying on the carpet in front of her.
"My secretary, Merrilee," Blow said, by way of introduction. They took the two chairs in front of his desk.
"Let me tell you what I'd like to do," Blow said, kicking his feet up onto his desk and pounding a Camel out of the pack. "I'd like to talk to Lulu first. Alone." He looked over at Marcos. "I just want to understand more about the goals she has for herself. I won't be talking business. Just a little heart to heart, so we have a beginning place."
"I want to be in movies," Lulu said.
"Right," said Blow. "And you would be great on the big screen. But, what I see here is someone who is not only beautiful, but very complex and multidimensional. My role here, to you Marcos, as her agent and husband, and to you, Lulu, the talent, is simply as a liaison. The more clearly I can understand how Lulu wants to emerge, what she wants to explore within herself, the more efficiently I can get her and you there. Right where you want to be. I get the ball rolling in the right directions. That's my specialty, you might say. For that, a mere 10% of her annual gross earnings. But, we can nail down all those specifics later. Right now, I would like just 30 minutes to talk to Lulu about what it is she wants. Why don't you let Merrilee take you over to the bar, Marcus? The tab's on me. Have a couple of drinks and come on back."
Marcus looked over at Lulu. She nodded and shrugged.
"Ok," he said, looking at his watch. Merrilee walked toward him and smiled, but her eyes looked somewhat blank. He bent down over Lulu's shoulder and kissed her cheek.
"I'll be back in thirty minutes, sweetheart," he said.
"I love you, Marcus," she said, looking back over her shoulder.
"I love you too, Lulu," he smiled, as he walked toward the door with Merrilee.
THE WAITING GAME
Marcus took a table by the window as Merrilee strolled over to the bar to get them a couple of drinks. He was feeling edgy. Joe Blow was as phony as a three dollar bill. And he had just left Lulu alone with him. He glanced nervously at his watch. Merrilee brought him a gin and tonic and sat down across from him with a glass of wine.
"She's very pretty," Merrilee said. He nodded.
"We just got married a few days ago. It's our honeymoon, so to speak."
"Lucky girl," Merrilee said, taking a sip of her burgundy. She turned her head to gaze out at the street. That's when he saw the yellow butterfly. Just behind and below her ear, almost hidden by a dangling pearl.
"Where are you from, Merrilee?" he asked. "Your accent seems from somewhere far away."
She smiled. "Far away, and long ago I'm afraid," she answered. "My father was a nuclear engineer in Copenhagen. We moved here when I was a child."
"Here to Vegas?"
"Oh no, The government moved us all about back then. We were in Chicago for awhile. Then, New Mexico, Florida, and so on." Marcus knew he was talking to Melody Johansson, but didn't know how to tell her I knew.
"So, where do you live now?" he asked.
"With him," she said, with a nod out the window. Marcos looked down at his watch again.
"We should probably be getting back," he said. He glanced across the street and saw a large barrel shaped Asian leaving the building. He was headed toward them.
"Jun-Kim," Merrilee said. "He's the boss's driver." He entered the bar and lumbered over to them clasping his hands together.
"Mistah Boss say twenty minutes more. He so sawry faw inconven'ence." He ended his sentence in a small bow. Marcus nodded.
"Ok, but tell him we have another appointment we will need to get to soon." Jun-Kim nodded again and left.
"I'll get us another round," Merrilee said, getting up. He stared across the street watching the burly Asian disappear back into the building. Merrilee sat down again, and continued talking. Telling him of some childhood memories she had of the old country. He heard very little of it. He was getting nervous. Merrilee excused herself to go powder her nose. He looked at my watch.
"Hell with it. I'm going back over there." He stood, slammed his drink, and left. His hand instinctively felt for his gun inside his jacket as he crossed the street.
Marcus took the stairs two at a time and knocked on the door. Jun-Kim was there to greet him, bowing as he stepped aside.
"Come please," he said with a wave of his meaty hand.
Marcus walked past him and looked around.
"Where's Lulu? Where is she?" he said, spinning around.
"Sit please", he said, motioning to a chair. "Be one minute, please sit."
Marcus walked toward him.
"Where is she?"
"They in studio down stair. Mistah Boss he take picture. Sit please. Be one minute more." Marcus sat down in the leather chair. This didn't feel right. He looked over at the burly thug sitting on the couch, both hands down between his fat legs like his balls were so big and heavy he had to hold them up.
He stood up. " I want to go see Lulu." Jun-Kim stood and drew a gun from the waistband of his pants and walked toward him.
"Sit please. Be just one minute more." Marcus sat down again, eyeballing his gun. A Luger semi-automatic. Hadn't seen one of those since the war. He handed Marcus a folded newspaper. "Relax. Read Paper. Be just one minute more," he said.
Marcus could feel the adrenaline pumping through his veins. He was back in France coming down over the mountain from Nice. Marching down toward the small village of Sospel. Flashes of light coming from the hillside followed by sharp echoing reports up and down the valley. Dirt flying up around him. They crawled, Kazinsky and him, through the brush making their way up to the bunker. On the count of three they launched two grenades toward the concrete cubicle and charged.
Jun-Kim stood close, as though looking over Marcus's shoulder to read the newspaper. Marcus jumped, throwing it in his face, instinctively grabbing his gun as he jammed his knee up between Hun-Kim's legs. The German came staggering out of the bunker, machine gun blazing erratically into the ground in front of him. Marcus lunged. His right hand came down on Jun-Kim's broad nose like the chop of an axe. It snapped loudly. His left hand came up striking his nose with the butt of his hand, sending the broken bones back into his brain. Another dead Kraut. Jun-Kim staggered backward falling onto the couch. Marcus stood there for a moment wringing his throbbing hands as Jun-Kim's whole body twitched violently and then was suddenly still. Marcus grabbed his Luger and headed for the stairs.
He jumped over the last four steps down to the foyer as he heard Lulu's wailing scream like an air-raid siren in his ears. The door was locked. He stepped back, and threw his shoulder into it. He was met by a scene from Hell. Two men holding cameras. A stage light flooding a mattress on the floor. Joe Blow, shirt off on top of Lulu clawing at the front of her silver lame dress. "Marcos," Lulu screamed. Everything became a moving blur. The camera man turned, reaching for his gun. Marcus dropped him with two rapid shots, and took the other man out as he lunged for Blow.
He bulldozed Blow off of Lulu and onto the dirty floor, pummeling his face with the long black pipe of the Luger's barrel. There was a shot. A sharp pain in his right side. Blow pushed him off and staggered to his feet. Marcus doubled in pain looking over to Lulu, pushing up from the mattress with one arm, one side of her face a swollen purplish red. Blow stood over him glowering. His face a bloody mess. Marcus's eyes were blurring. He could see a bridal gown and veil in a pile next to Lulu. He felt like he was in a nightmare in which he was about to die. Blow spit down at him, his mouth drooling blood.
"Mr O'Shea," he slurred. "Or should I call you 'Marcus'?" He had his gun trained on mMarcus as he knelt next to him pointing it at his face. "You should never barge into a studio in the middle of a shoot," he said, cocking his gun. Marcus thrust his hand up, grabbing his gun, trying to twist it away. He fired a round into the air. He grabbed at Blow's throat with his other hand. He saw the red of Lulu's hair flying over him. A sudden gasp. Blow collapsed on top of him as Lulu drove the stiletto to the hilt into his back. Marcus pushed him off, staggering to his feet. He grabbed Penny and pulled her into his arms. His eyes fell to the black slate board lying next to one of the camera men. 'Rape of the Bride' was scrawled across it in chalk. He could hear Joe Blow moaning on the floor, trying to get up. He kicked him onto his back.
"You sick son of a bitch," Marcus yelled, drawing his gun. He fired two rounds into his gut and knelt grabbing a handful of Blow's greasy black hair. "I think it's time we closed the deal, Mr. Bonaventure," he said, as he pressed the barrel to his forehead and pulled the trigger.
Marcus stood and turned to Lulu. She looked pitiful with one eye swollen shut. She was pulling up the front of her dress with shaking hands. He grabbed her coat and put it around her shoulders.
"Let's get out of here."
"Wait," she said. She knelt down by Blow and rolled his limp body over and pulled the blade out of his back. "I'm not leaving without my wedding present," she said. She crawled onto the mattress and picked up the bridal veil and wiped the bloody blade clean. There was a phone on the floor by the wall.
"I need to make a quick call." He dialed up Evelyn Kiriakas as Lulu came over to him. He put his arm around her as she buried her face in his chest. Evelyn picked up. "It's over," he said.
"Are you sure?" she answered.
"Does two slugs in the chest, one through the head, and a stiletto in the back sound 'over' to you?" he asked.
"Thank you," she said in a trembling voice, followed by a sob.
"I saw Melody Johansson. She's alive. We'll talk about it when I get back."
Marcus grabbed at his side feeling the warm blood soaking through his shirt. They were a mess hanging onto each other as they stepped outside. He waved a cab down.
"Get us to a hospital," he groaned. He glanced out the window toward the bar and the face of Melody Johansson in the window. The cabbie floored it.
Marcus woke up on a gurney. "Where's Lulu?" he said to the face looking down at him.
"Your wife is fine, Mr. Oshea. You had a close call. What the hell happened to you?"
"We were on the south end of the strip. We got mugged," Marus said.
"Bad part of town," the doctor mumbled. Marcus sat slowly up, his torso wrapped tight in gauze. Lulu came in. She hugged him.
"We need to get out of here Lulu," he whispered. He caressed the swollen side of her face. "I've never seen you in red and purple before."
"Shut up," she said through her teeth. "It only hurts when I laugh."
"Maybe Santa Claus will bring you a new face," he said.
"Shut up, I said," Lulu replied, helping him down from the gurney.
Chapter Three: BROKEN HEARTED MELODY
PICKING UP THE PIECES
Back in Terre Haute it took some time to get back to normal. Cully's bullet wound was healing up, but the tear in the abdominal wall made it necessary to loaf the remaining days 'til Christmas. Penny's face had returned to its original loveliness. For a few days they licked each other's wounds however, and re-hashed the whole Vegas incident. Penny had some hard nights tossing and turning with nightmarish recollections of that blood bath in Joe Blow's store front. She framed the certificate of the fake marriage of Lulu Sketcher and Marcus O'Shea and hung it on the wall behind her desk at the office. I went along with it for a few days, but knew it would be better to tuck that quietly away. Marcus was plagued with doubts about dragging Penny into all this. Over the years he eventually stopped vomiting after blowing somebody away. The war gave him a leg up on that. But, he didn't want to see Penny turn into the kind of monster he had become.
By now the newspapers and television reporters both locally and nationally, had pieced together some juicy pulp fodder about the death of Joseph Bonaventure in Las Vegas. Evidently, they reported, he died in a shoot out that was most likely a syndicate-linked territorial dispute. They mentioned his involvement in the porn industry, but no one made mention of 'The Rape of the Bride' nor did they speculate as to the likelihood there were other films of rape and brutality that may have been at the heart of Bonaventure's Ventures, Inc.
Cully took Penny along with him to meet Evelyn Kiriakas and pick up the final payment for dealing Joe Blow the coup de grace. As they pulled away from the office, Penny said,
"You know what I hate most about Terre Haute?"
"What?" he asked, glancing over at her sorta chewing on her lower lip. She was beginning to look like Penny again. Her shirt waist dress printed in yellow daisies was so Doris Day, and so quirky for the middle of winter.
"In a town like this you have to be just one person," she said. "You can't just up and be somebody else."
"Are you missing Lulu, Penny?"
"It's silly, I know, but yeah."
"Maybe Marcus and Lulu need to get together Christmas Eve," he said with a smile.
"Maybe so," she giggled. "What's Evelyn Kiriakas like?" she asked, turning in the seat to face him.
"She's a bit of an enigma. A contradiction of some kind. She comes off as a genteel woman, one who understands the etiquette of life," Cully answered.
"Is she pretty?" Penny asked. He glanced over at her.
"Are you jealous?"
"Not really. Just curious." Cully liked the idea that maybe she was jealous.
"Evelyn would appear to have led a pampered life," he said. "She seems younger than her age might suggest."
"Is she married?" Penny asked.
"Not that I know of. She may have been at one time. I really I don't know that much about her. I do know she was running girls. But, in a much classier way than the likes of Joe Blow. I think she catered to wealthy men and women who wanted the pleasure of a young thing around them. Some of the rich down Miami way buy up such girls to show around, the same way they might shop for jewels to flaunt at a party. Remember Joe Blow's secretary? Merrilee?"
Penny nodded. "A skinny little slut. I was pissed you went off with her. Did you fuck her?"
"Of course I didn't fuck her," Cully said. "Do you think I would just walk away and leave you Lulu, to screw some chick?"
"You just called me Lulu," Penny smiled.
"Anyway, this Merrilee turns out to have been the bone of contention between Kiriakas and Blow. Merrilee's real name was Melody Johansson, and she was one of Evelyn's girls. I don't know how Joe Blow got his hands on her, but he did. And Blow's people, basically the Chicago Outfit, wanted Kiriakas out of the way as they moved in and began forcing out anyone competing in their own games. Kiriakas decided to strike back and have Joe Blow killed. And we were her weapon."
"He had it coming," Penny said.
"Yeah, he had it coming," Cully muttered, as they pulled to the curb.
THE PENTHOUSE VIEW
Before they got out of the car, Marcus told Penny that they needn't mention too much about Lulu and Marcos to people. In fact, it might be good to take the fake marriage certificate down off the office wall.
"I kinda liked looking at it," Penny said. He nodded.
"Yeah its a nice keepsake," he replied. "But, if the mob starts questioning Merrilee about who came to Blow's office that day, it would be better if they were going in circles hunting some Marcos and Lulu, instead of finding out its really you and me they want. So let's just keep all that between us."
"You got it, Cully boy," Penny said, leaning toward him and pressing her lips lightly to his.
"Let's go," he said.
Evelyn Kiriakas greeted them at the door and quickly looked Penny up and down.
"My assistant, Penny O'Conner," Cully said.
"Come in," she smiled. She was wearing black silky billowing pants, and a belted lounge jacket that matched. It was emblazoned with a dragon of fiery red, orange, yellow, and green. Penny asked her where she got it.
"Tokyo. Several years ago," she answered. She smiled at Penny and eyed her daisy print shirt waist. "I like floral prints," she said. "Especially on lovely young girls like yourself." There was a certain seductiveness in her remark, and Marcus could tell Penny felt it. Her cheeks seemed to blush in a shy embarrassed way. "Let's celebrate," Evelyn said. They followed her to a small bar along the wall. "Why not just fix what you like," she said. "I think Cognac for me. What about you, Penny? I think cognac would suit you well." Penny nodded again with a blush. Cully treated himself to a nice single-malt scotch.
"If you'll excuse me for one moment," Evelyn said, setting her drink down on the glass coffee table. Penny and Cully sat down on the velveteen couch as Evelyn disappeared into her bedroom. "Lest I forget," she said, returning with something wrapped in a silken scarf. She set it down in front of them on the table. "Please tell me if this is sufficient." Cully opened the scarf and looked down on two neatly stacked banded bills. Twenty thousand dollars. "Is it sufficient?" she repeated. He nodded.
"A toast then," she said picking up her cognac. "To Joe Blow and the hole in his head."
"And may the worms crawl in and out," Penny added. They raised their glasses. Cully chuckled to himself about this quirky dark humor that came out of Penny now and then.
THE MEANING OF THE MELODY
"Tell me about Melody, Cully," Evelyn said, sipping her drink.
"She's going by the name of Merrilee," he replied. "She has her hair in a black bob."
"That's a wig I gave her last year," she said. "Did she look strung out?"
"She seemed ok," he said. "Kinda skinny."
"She was always skinny," Evelyn said. "What else?"
"She seemed sort of flat somehow. Talkative, but expressionless. Her eyes had a kind of blank look about them." Evelyn pursed her lips in a fretful way.
"I thought she looked lonely," Penny said. "Or broken hearted."
"How long had she been one of your girls?" Cully asked.
"One of my girls?" Evelyn replied. She shook her head and seemed momentarily lost in thought. "At first," she said, "I thought she would be one of my girls, as you say. There was a cold paleness about her. She looked like she would glow in the dark. Some men like girls like that. Long-legged platinum pale Scandinavians. I catered to many tastes. She would definitely have had her own niche. Of course, some men want an Asian, some have a thing for redheads." She threw a quick smile at Penny. "But, I want to make it clear, I never engaged in rough trade. I protected my girls."
"How come it didn't work out with Melody then," Penny asked. Evelyn looked over at her and smiled. "Because, I fell in love with her myself." She turned to look at Cully. "I am happy to know she is alive. But, I want her back, Cully." He shrugged.
"She may not want to come back."
"I beg to differ," she replied. "I know she wants to come back to me." She folded the scarf back around the money, and patted it with her palm. "There's more where this came from," she said. "Will you think about it?" Cully nodded. She stood and walked over to Penny. "You are simply adorable, young lady," she said, cupping Penny's face in her hands, and smiling down at her. She ran her fingers through Penny's hair, studying her. "I think you should cut your hair right about here," she said, drawing a line with her fingertip along the side of Penny's neck.
THINKING THINGS OVER
Penny and Cully sat around in the office.
"This place looks like a dump," he said. "After Christmas I think we need to find a new office, what do you think?" Penny nodded.
"And I need an apartment. Living at the Biltmore is getting old." They were both a bit giddy from their new-found wealth.
"Evelyn called me last night," Penny said.
"I knew she had her eyes on you, Cully replied. "I'm sure she would like to take you under her wing."
"No. It wasn't about that. She wanted to talk about Melody. She told me that she loved Melody so much, she didn't know if she could live without her."
"Yeah, that thought crossed my mind," he said. "I guess what we don't know is whether Melody feels the same way."
"Does it matter really, Cully? You saw her. She was one of Blow's little slave girls. And, Evelyn is worried about what might happen to her now."
"Well," he said, "We may have cut her loose from Blow's grip, but most likely, somebody else in the mob has snatched her up by now. Unless she packed her bags immediately and got the hell out of Vegas, she's still in deep shit. I guess we could look into it, let Evelyn know. She's willing to pay for the information, that's clear." Cully had to admit that Melody had been on his mind ever since they left Vegas. He kept seeing her face in that bar room window.
Penny picked up her jacket.
"I gotta go."
"Go where?" Cully asked.
"Can I go with you?"
"No," she smiled mischievously. "I have to pick up a few things to put under the tree."
THE MYSTERY OF WOMEN
Cully wished now that he had asked Melody Johannson a few more questions at the bar that night. Questions that might help him understand more clearly her relationship with Evelyn Kiriakas. Evelyn seemed to have been in love with her, wanted her for her very own. Did Joe Blow drag Melody away kicking and screaming? Or did she turn her back on Evelyn only to step out of the frying pan and into the fire? At this point, he only had one side of the story, and the emptiness of Melody's eyes, and whatever that meant. There was an ambiguous urgency circling around in his head. Melody would be in a very desperate situation if the mob snatched her up after Joe Blow's death. If she managed to skip town before they found her, where would she have gone? If she was, in fact, in love with Evelyn, she would be on her way to Palm Beach. If not however, where would she run? He remembered her mentioning Chicago, New Mexico, and Alabama. Places where her father had worked. He wondered where her father might now.
Cully picked up a bottle of a very fine wine and two long stemmed glasses for Christmas Eve, and strolled about a couple of women's boutiques, at a loss about what to give Penny for Christmas. There was something a bit embarrassing about the sales girl, young enough to be his daughter, asking him what he was looking for. Something about the way his voice cracked when he said,
"Something sexy?" Something about the way she smiled and nodded. Something about the way she would hold skimpy pieces of lingerie up to herself saying,
"Is it better if I got something too big, or something too small?" he asked.
"Well," she replied. "Would you rather see her wearing something too big, or wearing something too small?"
"I don't know," he said helplessly. "What do you think?"
"Well, my boyfriend likes to see me in things that are just a wee bit too small,"
she said with a wink.
"I may have to come back later," he said.
"Look inside her panties and her bra and see what size she wears," she added, as he made my way out. He nodded, and hurried out the door.
THE MELODY HAUNTS
Cully found it hard to just shut his mind down at times. To pretend for a few days at Christmas that the world is just fine. Melody's face sometimes popped up in this space between him and anything he looked at. He spent an afternoon in the library and finally stumbled onto some information on Gunnar Johansson, Melody's father. Even before he immigrated to the states he was consulting from his home in Copenhagen on Project Y in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Later, he's shown in a news photo shaking hands with Eisenhower at the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama where he was consulting on the idea of establishing what just recently became NASA. How fitting his parents named him Gunnar. He was last known to be living near Mobile along the Gulf coast.
In Cully's mind, he pictured Melody fleeing Vegas. On a train. Or maybe a bus. To where? Evelyn was returning to Palm Beach shortly after Christmas. Hoping to slip back into her home in that lull before the New Year. Hoping to be there for Melody, should she show. And maybe Melody would. Or, maybe not. She may be too afraid to go anywhere the mob may be milling about. She may not even care to see Evelyn.
He booked two flights to New Orleans departing January 2nd. A surprise for Penny. A vacation along the coast. He'd rent a car. A convertible. They'd make their way along the gulf to Mobile. It would make for a nice vacation. Marcus and Lulu could re-dedicate their 'marriage'. Maybe they'd stumble onto this Gunnar Johansson. Maybe even, Melody.
THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
As it turned out, Penny found a small apartment that was only one block up from Cully's. Second floor. Even empty it had a cozy feeling about it. And it was definitely a move up from a room at the Biltmore. She wanted to spend Christmas eve there with him. She being Lulu, that is, and he being Marcus. He walked down to her place around seven that evening with his several hastily wrapped gifts.
She answered the door back lit by the flickering of candles that left her face in shadow but made her hair seem on fire. The place was still empty except for the bed she bought. It sat in the middle of her living room floor. Nearby, a tiny aluminum tree with twinkling lights sat on the floor rotating slowly around in a wobbily orbit and emitting an occasional squeaking sound. They sat on the floor close to it, and sipped wine.
"I'm happy, Marcus," she said clinking her glass to his.
"If you're happy, I'm happy Lulu," he smiled. She was bare-footed, with a dark green chenille robe wrapped around her.
"Here," she said, handing him a nicely wrapped box. It had a vaguely familiar heft about it.
"Oh wow," he said, looking down into the box. It was a Russian made 9mm Makarov in an ankle holster. He picked it up and examined it. "I've thought about getting one of these for a long time."
"Do you really like it?" Lulu said, on her hands and knees watching him swap it back and forth in his hands. He nodded.
"How did you know?" He asked.
"Mickey told me," she smiled.
"He didn't try to hustle you, did he?"
"No," she giggled. "He was the perfect gentleman, actually."
Cully took a big nervous breath and handed her his present. She tore at it like a kid and then gasped.
"Oh, Marcus!!" she said. "I love it!" It was a peach silk Teddy the girl at the store guaranteed would do the trick. She was right. Lulu ran to try it on. We spent the rest of the night breaking in her new bed. Cully saved the tickets to New Orleans for a Christmas morning surprise.
PISTOL PACKIN' MAMA
For the most part, Lulu and Marcus spent Christmas day in bed. It seemed they slept and cat-napped all the way into the next day. Seemed like sleep was what they both needed most. At one point he woke up and Lulu was sitting on the bed looking at me.
"Who is Lorelei?" she said.
"'Lorelei', you were saying 'Lorelei' in your sleep." He sat up.
"I must have been dreaming," he said.
"Oh, I'm sure you were. Dreaming of Lorelei. So...?"
"It's not like that, Lulu," he said.
"So, what was it like with Lorelei then?" she persisted.
"I was going to tell you," he said.
"Are you still seeing her?" Penny scowled.
"Penny," he answered.. "Lorelei was my daughter. I was married. It was a long time ago."
"Oh," Penny said. "I'm sorry. I just thought that..."
"I know," he interrupted. "It's ok." He laid back down. Penny snuggled next to him.
"So where is Lorelei now?" she said softly, her palm slowly caressing his chest.
"She died eight years ago. She was ten years old. Her mother died too." Lulu suddenly reverted back to Penny.
"Oh, Cully. What happened?"
"Are you sure you want to know?" She nodded.
"Ellen, Lorelei's mother had just picked her up from school. They were going to go shopping for clothes for a vacation we were planning to take. It was about 4:15 in the afternoon and I could hear police sirens from my office. I could tell it was an APB since they were coming from several directions. I figured they must be closing in on somebody. As it turned out, a punk had broken out of county jail and stolen a car. He had been hauled in a few days before, running dope for the mob. He lost control of the car on Wabash Avenue and slammed into Ellen's car. Ellen and Lorelei died instantly." Penny grabbed his arm.
"Oh, Cully," she said in a very soft voice. He glanced up at her not sure how much more to say. "How did you stand it?" He shook my head.
"Sometimes I wonder," he replied. "Well, they caught the guy. But,do you want to know the kicker? In the three days it took for me to to bury my wife and daughter, that punk was back on the streets. The mob bailed him out."
"You must have wanted to kill him," Penny said, lying back down next to him, and putting her head on his chest. He ran his hand over her bare shoulder and down her back.
"Well, that's just it, Penny. I did kill him." In his mind he was recapturing that scenario. "I had just come out of a floral shop with a bouquet of flowers I was planning to take over to the cemetery. Instead, I drove over to the building where the punk lived. I knocked on his door. He answered. I handed them the flowers. I said, 'The boss said congratulations'. He laughed and took the flowers. I drew my gun. I said, 'And Ellen and Lorelei wanted to give you this'. I shot him point blank in the head, and walked away." Penny was silent, but Cully could feel tears wetting his chest. "So anyway, I took the usual week of mourning that the department allows, and then returned to the force, and turned in my badge."
"Did they know that you killed him?" Penny asked.
"No. They figured the mob killed him because he was in a position to rat on them when his case came to trial. Mickey is the only one who knows. I told him one night when we were out drinking. He's kept it under his hat all these years."
HANGIN' WITH MICKEY
It worried Morrissey a bit that he had told Penny about Ellen and Lorelei. It wasn't about the fact he had been married, or even about the car crash. It was about blowing that punk away. About the turning point in his own mind back then, and taking the law into his own hands. And already, in pulling her into the Joe Blow incident, he had made her an accomplice to my own murderous impulses. He wondered if she was understanding this. That they were criminals themselves, just a few shades lighter than evil. That, while cloaked in the legitimacy of being a private investigator of problems, that she understood that quite often he stepped over the line and solved the problem himself, and in no uncertain terms.
When they finally crawled out of bed, Penny decided to go shopping for things for her apartment, so Morrissey gave Mickey a call.
"Wanna slip out of the house and grab a few cold ones? he asked.
"Hell yeh," was the answer. Cully picked him up in front of his house and they drove over to the park across the river with a cold six pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon on the seat between them.
"So, how was your Christmas?" Mickey asked, as they pulled in and parked along the river.
"Hey," Cully laughed. "Thanks for tipping Penny off about the Makarov 9."
He slapped Cully's back.
"I was right, wasn't I? You still wanted that gun." Cully nodded.
"The ankle holster was Penny's idea though. And it was so funny when she bought herself one too."
"What?" Cully said, turning to him. "She bought herself a Makarov?" He nodded.
"She didn't tell you?" Cully shook his head.
"That little rascal," he chuckled.
"Rascal?" Mickey laughed. " 'Pistol Packin' Mama' is more like it!"
They tipped a couple more, and shot the shit about things down at the station, and how the wife and kids were doing.
"You're a good man, Mick," Cully said.
"Hell," Mick answered. I always wished you and I had worked the job together. We'd have made a good team."
"Let me know, if you plan to retire soon," Cully said, toasting him. "Say, Mick. I wonder if you'd do me a little favor when you get back to work."
"Shoot. You know I got ya covered," he replied. Cully told him about this woman he had been hired to find, and that he needed to find out where her father might be living. Somewhere in Alabama, he thought.
"Hell yeah," Mick said. "What's his name?"
"Johansson. Gunnar Johansson."
"Gunnar Johansson?!" he said, in surprise. "Hell, he's some kind of big shot, Chuck."
"Yeah, some kind of nuclear genius, they say. Think you could find anything out about him? I think he's retired now."
"Piece of cake," Mickey assured him.
MONEY DOWN ON MELODY
Evelyn Kiriakas came to the office to say goodbye. She was returning to Palm Beach to spend the New Year's weekend in her home hoping for news of Melody. She dropped another ten grand on Morrissey to try to find her. She said that should Melody appear in Palm Beach on her own, they should keep the money and consider the case closed. Morrissey assured her they would be leaving town the day after New Year's day and would call her of any news. Evelyn presented Penny with a pair of earrings saying,
"You need some pretty danglers, darling." They were tear shaped pearls just like the ones Melody had been wearing when we saw her in Vegas. Penny held her hair back as Evelyn screwed them onto her lobes.
"Look, aren't they beautiful?" Penny said. Cully smiled and nodded, but actually it all seemed somehow creepy to him. They drove Evelyn Kiriakas to the airport and said goodbye. The last thing she said as she dusted off her skirt was,
"You really need to get a new car, Morrissey."
Mickey called Friday afternoon. Gunnar Johansson's last known address was in Orange Grove about halfway between Mobile and Pensacola, Florida. 772 Bay Blvd. Penny was getting excited about their gulf coast road trip and went shopping. Cully pulled out his road maps and charted a route from New Orleans over to Mobile, and on to Orange Grove. He drew a dotted line from there through Pensacola, Tallahassee, and on over to Palm Beach, in the event they found Melody somewhere along the way.
BRINGING IN THE NEW YEAR
Penny and Cully decided to invite Mickey and Laurie, his wife, to spend New Year's Eve with them at Penny's place. They jumped at the invitation and called upon Laurie's mother to take the kids for the night.
They arrived with champagne and it added it to the several bottles they already had on ice. Cully could already feel a hangover coming on even as he popped the first cork. Penny and Laurie did their girl thing for awhile, wandering about talking of curtains, dishes, and wall colors. They disappeared into the bedroom and appeared to have plenty of laughs rifling through Penny's wardrobe. Mickey and Cully played pass the bottle over the coffee table where he had my maps laid out, showing him his intended course of action.
"Hell," Mickey said. "I wish I was going with you. We could charter a boat and get in some big time fishing."
The girls emerged from the bedroom and they definitely had been playing dress-up. Penny kept the record player spinning and they all danced, drank, danced, and drank. Mickey and Laurie were living it up. They don't get out often. By midnight they were all pretty well plastered. Mickey and Cully performed a tango to the giddy delight of the girls. And Cully let Mickey get away with planting one on Penny when the clock struck twelve. And he also discovered Laurie had very nice lips.
THE FOUR SPEED BULLET
Penny and Cully moved easily back into their song and dance of pretending to be someone else. Morrissey had booked their flight to New Orleans with different names, and got them some matching I.D.s. Mark and Lannie Kerrigan. The last thing they needed right now was to leave a paper trail for the mob to pick up on.
They spent the afternoon walking around and absorbing the sights and sounds and smells of New Orleans. Upon recalling Evelyn's parting shot that he needed a new car, Morrissey decided, instead of renting a car, he'd just buy one. You look at life differently with a pocketful of dough. He had the new Studebaker Hawk picked out in my mind. So they caught a cab to a Studebaker dealer. They were looking at a sleek looking little Hawk on the showroom floor, but then something else caught his eye in the parking lot. It was a shiny black 1950 Studebaker Starlight. It had that big chrome bullet nose on it. And, a convertible at that.
"That's the boss's car," the salesman said.
"Can I talk to him?" Cully asked. The boss was your typical slick.
"Yeh," he said. "She's my baby." He walked alongside the car caressing it with his hand. "Nine years old, but tight as a virgin." Mark glanced at Lannie. He could tell she loved that remark.
"How much do you want?" Mark asked, cutting to the chase.
"I'd need at least seven g's for this little sweetheart," he answered, taking out his handkerchief and wiping a smudge off the chrome nose.
"I'll give you five, cold cash," Mark said.
"Look," he said, scratching his head. "If you promised you would take good care of her, I might let her go for six." Mark pulled a large roll of bills out of his pocket, and began counting them out. He handed a wad to the dealer.
"Five thousand, five hundred," he said.
"Deal," the dealer answered. About 30 minutes later, he handed them the keys along with temporary Louisiana tags, and a title in the name of Mark Kerrigan.
"I love this car," Lannie said, as she hopped in.
"Can you drive stick?" Mark asked her.
"I'll teach you," he said, dropping it into first, revving it up, and laying rubber.
GUNNAR AND ALVIDA
They left New Orleans the next day with the top down. The Torpedo purred along the highway east toward Mobile. They had lunch there, and Mark went over the map with Lannie.
"I think the Johansson's live right about here," he said, tracing the thin line along the small cove outside Orange Grove. It took two hours to get there and turn down Bay Boulevard. It was lined with waterfront homes that backed up to the gulf. Most had their own docks and leisure boats. They pulled up to a small house of grey weather worn cedar with a dark slate roof. A well tanned woman with a straw hat was watering some flowers by the front door.
"I'm thinking that may be Alvida, Gunnar's wife," he said to Lannie. The woman sat her watering can down and smiled as they approached.
"May I help you?" she asked.
"Oh, we're just passing through," Mark said, shaking her hand. "My wife Lannie, here thought this might be where a friend of hers lived."
"Yes," Lannie said. "Melody?" The woman looked at Lannie, her smile fading.
"I didn't know Melody had any friends," she said.
"Oh, we worked together in Las Vegas awhile back. At a restaurant," Lannie said.
The woman nodded, looking Lannie up and down.
"Well, she's not here," she replied. A tall stocky man with thick white hair came to the door. It was Gunnar. Mark recognized him from the photos he had seen. He stepped out and shook their hands, and spoke in a clipped guttural voice.
"Ok, den," he said. "Melody was here three days ago now. She was in quite the mood. It was money mostly she wanted. So, ok, den, we give her money. Melody is very, how do I put it den, mixed up." He put his arm around Alvida.
"Den, she leave."
"Did she say where she was going?" Lannie asked. "I would love to see her again."
Alvida shook her head.
"She tells us nothing. She is not the same."
"If you see her, would you tell her Lulu dropped by?" Lannie said.
"Lulu?" the woman repeated. "I thought your name was Lannie."
"It is," Lannie smiled and tried to back "But Melody always called me Lulu because she thought I looked like Little Lulu in the funny papers."
"That is a nice auto," Gunnar said, nodding out to the 'Torpedo', as Lannie liked to call it. "When they added the fins later, they should have stuck with that grille." Mark couldn't have agreed more. He stared at Gunnar realizing he was looking at one of the men who designed the ultimate bomb.
They spent the night at a motel on the road to Pensacola. Mark wasn't sure what to do. He felt like he had followed a hunch that ended on a dead end street. Lannie came in from the pool dripping wet in that bikini Lulu bought in Vegas. They fucked, and Mark came when he looked down and saw Penny's eyes. He felt ready to go back home, and get out of this stupid business. Lannie sat on the edge of the bed flipping the television from one channel to the next, while he laid back smoking a cigarette.
He called Evelyn in Palm Beach to see if she had any word from Melody. She said no. Morrissey told her Melody had picked up some money from her parents and disappeared again. She took it as good news. That maybe Melody was on her way back to Palm Beach. Lannie suddenly grabbed my foot and pointed to the tv.
"We are coming your way, Evelyn," he said, sitting up. "I'll get back to you tomorrow."
On the television there was the camera's pan of a harbor. A reporter talking.
"Authorities have confirmed that several items of women's clothing have washed onto the beach, along with a pair of shoes, and a handbag." The camera cut away and there was Gunnar and Alvida clinging to one another. "Speculation at this time is that the items found belonged to the daughter of Gunnar Johansson, reknowned nuclear scientist now retired from NASA. Coast Guard vessels are dragging the harbor, but at this time, a body has not been recovered." Lannie looked over her shoulder at me.
"I don't believe it," she said.
"Neither do I," Mark answered. It occurred to him that the mob may have found her, killed her, and dumped her into the gulf. It was even possible she had drowned herself out of some moment of desperation. But none of those thoughts really added up in his mind.
SOMETHING SEEMS OFF
Upon hearing the news that clothing belonging to Melody had washed ashore in Orange Grove, Mark and Lannie turned around and drove back. The Coast Guard and a city police vessel were still circling slowly around out in the bay with drag nets. Mark talked to one of the local cops who was walking the shoreline in search of any additional evidence. He said she probably got drunk and fell off a boat. It's not uncommon along the gulf coast, but usually a body washes up a day or two later.
They decided to go pay Gunnar and Alvida another visit. They seemed pretty calm given that their daughter had just drowned. Too calm, in fact.
"Well, ok den," Gunnar said. "Melody was for years an unhappy child." Alvida nodded along.
"It was as though she never grew up, really," Alvida said. Gunnar fidgeted with his pipe and packed it for a smoke.
"Ok den," he said, as he lit up. "Done is done. So den, we move on." Mark stared over at Gunnar on the couch, watching as he picked up the newspaper on the coffee table and appeared to be looking it over. He seemed unfeeling and as cold as ice. But then, being one of the brains behind the bombs that took out thousands of people in Japan some time ago, maybe its not surprising.
"But what do you think happened, really?" Lannie asked.
"She probably killed herself," Gunnar said flatly, without looking up from his paper.
"Would it be asking too much to have a picture of Melody to remember her by?" Lannie asked. Alvida left the room and returned with a snapshot.
"This was from about three years ago when we went to Denmark to visit family," she said, handing it to Lannie. It was a picture of Melody at an outdoor cafe along one of the walking streets of Copenhagen. She had long silky hair then.
"Did Melody ever mention a friend named Evelyn?" Lannie asked. Alvida shrugged and shook her head no.
Life can get real complicated real fast sometimes. The way bricks fall from a blue sky. Things appear out of nowhere and mess up a perfectly fine day. That's how Morrissey felt leaving the Johansson's house and getting in the car again.
"So, now what?" Lannie asked. He threw up his hands.
"Damn if I know," he said. There seems to be a certain deja vu that occurs in observing people. In some way each one is unique among the millions all around them,
and yet, how familiar they all can look at times. Something repetitive about the way they live, the things they say, the ways they feel - or don't feel at all. Pretty soon each day plays out like an old movie you've seen too many times already. There was something familiar about the emotional flatness of Gunnar and Alvida. But whether it was born out of a necessary denial of the horrible reality of their daughter's death was not so clear.
"To tell you the truth," Lannie said, "I would have thought they might be more upset than they were. But it was like, 'Oh well, so much spilt milk'."
"Unless there was no milk spilled at all," he answered. "Melody runs away from Vegas, comes all the way down here, asks her parents for money, then jumps in the ocean?"
"So, you think someone knocked her off?" Lannie asked.
"Well, there's not much to rule out here, but so far, there is no body found," he mused. "All we really know is that a few pieces of her clothing washed up on the beach. I think we should hang out around here a few days and see if one turns up."
Gunnar and Alvida Johannson didn't seem to fit the profile of grieving parents in Morrissey's book. There was something about the whole picture that didn't seem to add up.
IT TAKES A LIAR TO KNOW A LIAR
Cully and Penny, still going by their pseudonyms, Mark and Lannie, hung around several small fishing towns along the coast killing time for a few days, enjoying the sea and the fresh seafood. Mostly they were hanging around should any further news develop about Melody. Cully made a call to Evelyn and informed her that it appeared Melody had drowned, or been drowned down around Mobile. She sounded more angry than distraught upon hearing the news.
"So far, there's only circumstantial evidence," he told her. "A few items of clothing that washed up on the beach. No body has been recovered at this point."
He told her that Melody's parents confirmed the items found belonged to Melody.
"I never like them much," Evelyn said.
"Who?" Cully asked.
"Melody's parents," she replied.
Cully told Penny about the conversation with Evelyn over dinner that night.
"That's odd," Penny said. " I asked Mrs. Johannson if she knew of a friend of Melody's named Evelyn. She said she had never heard of her."
Cully looked over at her as he savored a well buttered chunk of lobster tail.
"What do you make of that?" he said.
"Well, either she has a bad memory, or she's covering something up," Penny answered. "Do the Johannsons have a boat?"
"I don't know," Cully answered. "I'd guess they do. They live by the gulf, they've got plenty of dough. Sounds like a nice retirement plan to me. What of it?"
"Well," Penny answered. "Just suppose that Gunnar and Alvida are trying to help Melody hide from either the mob or Evelyn, for that matter, what would they do?"
Cully laid his fork down, and stared at Penny.
"Go on," he said.
"Well," she said, "you were wondering why a girl would get money from her parents and then go drown herself, right?? Cully nodded.
"The whole thing is a scam, is that what you are saying?" Cully replied, as he reached for his smokes. He lit up and stared out the window at the sea. Three pelicans were gliding and diving into the water. "So," he mused, "Gunnar and Alvida see that Melody is in trouble. They give her some money, and maybe a plan for disappearing."
"So, they grab some of her clothes" she adds. "And they hop in their boat and go out into the bay, and drop them. They report Melody as missing, and then, lo and behold, Melody's clothes wash up on the beach. You saw how the press was all over it. Gunnar Johannson is their local hero. You saw how they were covering the two of them with their cameras. The grieving parents. It probably made national news."
"And meanwhile," Cully said, jumping on the train of thought, "Melody skips town."
"I think Melody is still out there somewhere, Cully. And meanwhile everybody else thinks she's dead."
"It's a pretty good scheme when you think about it," Cully admitted. "And given Gunnar Johannson's rather clandestine past, he would be good at this business of covering tracks. Damn it, Penny, you may be onto something."
"You think so?" she smirked. "I told you I was a damn good liar. And it takes a liar to know a liar. I know when there is something rotten in Denmark, you might say."
"Let's get out of here," Cully said.
CARIBBEAN WINDS MOTEL
Penny stood looking out the window at the moonlight glistening on the sea as Cully put in a call to Mickey.
"Mick. We're still down on the gulf. We are going under the names Mark and Lannie Kerrigan."
Hey, Cully. I'm glad you called," Mickey replied. "In fact, I've had state troopers down your way on the look out for you and Penny."
"Why?" Cully asked.
"Well. Yesterday it seems someone broke into Penny's apartment and ransacked the place," he answered.
Cully glanced over toward Penny and dropped his voice.
"Go on," he said quietly into the phone.
"Well not much to go on right now," Mickey continued. "The landlord said he saw some tall guy in a baseball cap go into the building. Then he saw him a few minutes later leaving in a hurry. He said the guy drove off in a Ford station with Ohio plates."
"Anything else?"Cully asked.
"Yeh...sorta weird. There was a night gown on the bathroom floor. Looks like the guy pissed all over it. We've got it down in the lab now seeing if we can get some data from the urine."
"Ok," Cully said, watching Penny kneeling in front of the tv flipping the dial. "We'll be heading back by way of Georgia. We're in a black '51 Studebaker. If you get any other information have the troopers chase us down."
"Will do Cully," Mickey replied. "Try to call in while you're on the way back if you can. And oh, we've got an APB out for the guy's car, but so far, nothing."
Morrissey hung up the phone and turned about on the bed to break the news to Penny. But when he looked up, she was standing and pointing to the television. It was breaking news and the camera was fixed on the open front door of the Johannson's house. There were cop cars and an ambulance. A covered body was being wheeled out on a gurney. Cut to the reporter.
"Noted nuclear physicist Gunnar Johannson and his wife were discovered dead only moments ago. The neighbor who stumbled onto the grisly scene said they had been both shot in the head at close range. Authorities are tight-lipped about the incident, but it was described as a well-planned execution. Rumors floating suggest it may have been a mob hit, or perhaps even an assassination with international ties. Details at ten."
"Pack your bag, Penny," Cully said, as he reached for his shirt and pants.
ON THE ROAD
Morrissey cranked the Studebaker and pumped the gas. The motor fired up with a growl like that of a rudely awakened bear. He dropped it into first and they pulled away.
"Where are we headed?" Penny asked, as she opened the glove box and pulled out several maps. "Most of all, we're getting out of town," Morrissey said. "There's too many players in this game right now, and I don't know who they are."
"Do you think the mob took out the Johannsons?" Penny said.
"Maybe. Somebody wanted them out of the picture, that's clear. Hell, for all I know Melody went back home and plugged her parents for being such assholes."
"Do you think we should give Evelyn a call and see what she knows?"
"Not just yet," Cully answered. "She might have had the Johannsons whacked herself for whatever reason. See what I'm saying? Too many cooks in the kitchen. The best thing for us right now is to remove ourselves from the game. You ever been to Atlanta?"
"Uh-uhh," Penny answered.
"Look it up on the map. There's a hot dog stand there that has over thirty kinds of hot dogs. Do you like hotdogs?"
"Yeh, I guess."
"Well, you can even invent your own hotdog there and if its good, they'll add it to their menu and name it after you."
"Ok. Now you're making me hungry," Penny said. "That's it then. Atlanta. Birthplace of the 'Penny Dog'." She looked down at the map on her lap. "Ok. So, we want to take Highway 37 up to Montgomery, and then get on 54 to Atlanta."
IT TAKES A MONSTER TO KILL A MONSTER
The mileposts along the highway glided silently by for awhile. With a little luck they could make Atlanta by nightfall. Morrissey pulled into a rest stop. It was well shaded, but not much there except a picnic table and a trash can. He climbed up onto the table and sat down. Penny walked off to take a pee behind a tree.
"Don't look!" she said over her shoulder. Morrissey laughed, then sat there looking out at the road thinking about the game, and how to stay a play or two ahead.
"Penny," he said, as she walked toward him buttoning her jeans. "Sit down I've got to talk to you about something."
"What's up?" she asked, as she wiped off the bench and sat down.
"Back in the motel, when we were watching the news about the Johannson hit, I had just been talking to Mickey on the phone."
Penny squinted her eyes, and shaded them with one hand as she looked up at him.
"Yeh. So, how's he doing?"
"He's fine. But it seems some jerk broke into your apartment and tore the place up. Some guy from Ohio." Penny jumped up.
"I was about to tell you when the news came on the tv, and so I dropped it until we could at least get out of town." Penny turned white. "It's alright," Cully said. "He mostly just threw stuff around."
"No! Its not alright!" Penny replied in a frantic voice. "He found me."
Morrisey reached for Penny's hand.
"Come here. Sit down. We can handle this. Mickey's got some men on the street looking for this creep. This is the guy you ran away from, isn't it?" She nodded.
"So, what's the deal with this guy? Who is he?"
"His name is Walt. Walt Thornton," Penny answered.
"So, what does he want? What's he pissed off about?" Cully asked.
"He wants me. He thinks he owns me. He beat the crap out of me one too many times, so I packed a bag and disappeared."
"Did you leave anything at the apartment that would give him an idea of what you're doing, or where you might be?" She shook her head no.
"I don't think so."
"Well, chances are he's got your place staked out waiting for you to show."
"I'm almost certain of that," Penny replied. Cully scooted down off the table and sat down beside Penny on the bench. He put his arm around her.
"Look, Penny. This jerk has just about played his last hand. If Mickey and the boys downtown don't sniff him out, then I'll get rid of him myself."
"You don't understand," Penny answered. "He's a fucking monster."
"You think so?" Cully said. "I eat monsters for breakfast." Penny laughed, and wiped her eyes. "I'm serious Penny. The guy is as good as dead. Even if the boys find him and throw his ass in jail, I'll get to him. He's never going to hurt you again. That's a promise. He's dead already. He just doesn't know it. Are you listening to me?" She nodded, and rested her head on his chest. "Come on," he said. "Let's put the top down on the torpedo and hit the road."
Penny and Cully were about an hour south of Montgomery when they pulled off at a truck stop.
"I like places like this," Penny said, staring out the window from their booth in the cafe.
"How do you mean?" Cully said, as he stirred his coffee about.
"People coming and going. All kinds of people. I wonder what it would be like to drive one of those big trucks. Go across country. In one city and out the other."
"Probably pretty lonely, I would think," Cully answered, looking out the window. A station wagon pulled in nearby, its top loaded and strapped with suitcases and a bicycle. The doors open. A family gets out. The driver stretches. The kids are noisy as their mother shoos them toward the cafe door.
"See?" Penny said. "Like that family there. Taking a vacation, seeing new places. Maybe going down to the ocean. That looks like fun. Not a care in the world. Cully," she said, changing the subject. "Do you think we can really get Walt off my back? Make him go away?"
"Like I said Penny, the guy is history," Cully answered.
"How? What would you do to him?"
"What would you like me to do to him?"
"Well, beat the crap out of him for starters. That would make it even," she answered. Cully frowned as he looked over at Penny nervously drumming her fingers on the table. He pictured this jerk standing over her. Threatening her. Hitting her.
"You know, with guys like that Penny," he said, "You can't get even. There is no getting even. Guys like that only scheme about getting to you again. If not you, then some other woman they can intimidate and control. So, getting even? Yeh, for starters, maybe. But, I don't believe in temporary fixes much. The problem comes back again sooner or later. This guy Walt is going to go away alright. Very far away."
"How far?" Penny said, leaning back in her seat.
"Very far, let's leave it at that." The waitress brought their plates. Cheeseburgers, fries, cokes.
"Anything else?" she asked, as she looked from Penny to Cully. Cully shook his head.
"No thanks. Looks good."
"Look at that guy," Penny said, nodding away to an idling big rig at the pump. "He doesn't look so lonely." The big bellied driver was helping a woman down from the passenger side, then reached in and pulled down her backpack.
"Dangerous way to go," Cully said, as he slathered his burger with ketchup. "A woman thumbing down the road all by herself is asking for trouble." Penny watched the woman as she made her way to the cafe.
"She looks ok. Look, she's waving back at him," Penny said.
"Yeh, she got away with it, but she may not be so lucky with the next guy that comes along," Cully replied. Penny picked up a fry and nibble on it as she continued to watch the woman stepping into the cafe. Her long black hair was tied back in a ponytail. Dark sunglasses.
"Interesting tattoo," Penny mused. "A red daisy. Do you think I would look good with a tattoo right here?" She ran her fingers along the side of her neck.
"No. I like your neck just the way it is," Cully said, continuing to wolf down his cheeseburger. He turned to look at the woman walking into the bathroom. "A red flower, eh?" Penny nodded.
"Yeh, a red daisy with a couple of green leaves and a yellow center. It was cute. This guy Walt had a tattoo on his neck that said 'Peggy', then, when we started going together he tried to have it changed to 'Penny'. It looked stupid. It's hard to change a 'g' into an 'n'." Cully stopped eating and looked back over to the bathroom door.
"I'll be right back," he said getting up from the table. He walked over to the jukebox next to the bathrooms, plugged it, then turned to the telephone on the wall. He dialed Mickey's number. "Hey, Mick. Cully. Yeh, we're on the road. Any word on that guy? Yeh ok, well maybe he skipped town. Do me a favor Mick. The guy's name is Walt. Or Walter. Walter Thornton. See if he's got any priors or any warrants in Ohio. Maybe start with Toledo." He glanced up as the woman stepped out of the bathroom zipping up her backpack, then did a double take as she walked by. "Mick, I'll get back to you tonight, or maybe in the morning." He walked back to the table. "Keep an eye on her Penny," he said, nodding toward the woman walking out the cafe door. He fished his wallet out of his jacket and threw a few bills onto the table. "Come on," he said, pulling on her arm.
"I'm still eating," Penny complained. He picked her burger up off the plate and handed it to her.
"You can eat it in the car." Penny stood and grabbed her bag.
"What's the big hurry?" Penny said, as he ushered her to the door.
"That red daisy? That's a yellow butterfly in the middle of it." They stepped out. Cully pointed to the big truck. The woman was climbing back in. "Let's go," Cully said, yanking Penny's arm as they hurried to the car.
"Do you think its her?" Penny said, as she climbed in.
"Cully keyed the ignition and fired it up.
"If you had a little yellow butterfly on your neck, how would you try to hide it?" he answered. He looked over to the truck pulling out onto the highway.
"Its Melody," Penny said.
"Good a guess as any," Cully answered. They pulled out on the road. He fished a small notebook out of his pocket. "Here," he said. "When we catch up to that truck write down his tag numbers."
THE DEWDROP INN
Penny looked down at her lap. "We're only an hour south of Atlanta now," she said, as they followed the truck onto Highway 54. Cully nodded.
"I've got a feeling this guy is either going to drop his load in Atlanta, or pick up a load there. If that is Melody, I hope she's not thinking of hanging around Atlanta. Too much mob action in that city."
"Do you think the mob is still trying to find her?" Penny asked.
"I'd guess so. She probably knows too much. Or she may have something they want," Cully answered.
The truck slowed down on the outskirts of town and pulled off in front of a motel. The blinking neon said, "Dewdrop Inn". Cully pulled into the gas station across the road. They sat and watched as the woman climbed down out of the truck. She waved as it pulled away and then walked over to the motel office. A grease monkey approached the car wiping his hands with a rag.
"What'll you have, buddy?" he asked.
"Ten bucks high test, Cully replied. "And check the oil would you?"
"There she goes," Penny said, looking over to the motel. They watched as the woman walked along the row of doors and stopped at one. She took a quick glance over each shoulder and disappeared inside.
Cully pulled away from the station and drove up to the motel office. "Did you see her room number?" he asked Penny.
"Number 11," Penny answered.
They walked up to the front desk. "A room for two please?" Cully said to the manager.
"Number 21 is a nice room," the man said, pointing to a room map on the counter with his pen.
"Oh," said Penny. "Is there a room 12? That's the day we got married."
The manager smiled. "Certainly. Room 12 it is." He pushed a clipboard toward Cully. "If you'll just sign in here. It's 25 a night." Cully signed them in as Marcus and Lulu O'Shea. He looked over at Penny and nodded to the clipboard, his finger on the name above theirs. Marianne Johnson. "That bar next door," Cully said, gesturing with his thumb. "Do they sell liquor by the bottle?"
"Well, technically they're not supposed to," the man replied. "But if you tell the bartender Rupert sent you, he'll probably let you pick up a pint or two," the man said with a wink. Cully took Penny by the arm and they went over to the bar and picked up a pint of tequila 'for Rupert'.
THE BARE NECESSITIES
Cully poured a couple of drinks then kicked his shoes off and laid down on the bed. "Not too bad," he said, glancing around the motel room. "What are you doing?" he said, as he watched Penny roll the tv guide up into a tube. Penny pressed the tube against the wall and put her ear to the other end.
"I think she just flushed the toilet," Penny said. Cully laughed and took a sip on his glass.
"That's good to know," he replied.
"She just turned on the shower," Penny whispered, hurrying into the bathroom.
"Good work, detective," Cully mumbled, as he reached for the remote control on the nightstand. "Let me know when she's brushing her teeth."
Penny came rushing out of the bathroom.
"Cully, Cully! Someone is banging on her door."
"Probably room service," he replied, as he stared at the tv.
"No! I mean really banging on her door!" Cully sat up and reached for his shoes.
He stood and reached into his bag for his gun.
"Why does this shit always happen in the middle of a good movie?" He laid the chamber of his .38 open and snapped it back into place.
Cullin Morrissey had a way of turning into a machine at times, and this was one of those times. It was something about what the war did to him maybe. Or something about his wife and daughter cut down by a punk running amuck on the street. Or maybe these are the same. Did it matter whether it was his wife and daughter, or his good buddy that got cut down in a cross-fire in some valley in France? There was some shit he had decided not to eat. He grabbed Penny's arm.
"You got a gun?" he said flatly, in the manner one might say 'Pass the mustard.' Penny nodded.
"Some kind of shit is about to hit the fan," he said. They bolted for the door.
Morrissey took a step back and threw a brutal kick at the door. Melody was huddled into a ball on the floor clutching a towel to herself as some broad-shouldered brute hovered menacingly over her. The guy swung instinctively around as the door crashed open. He raised his gun, but Morrissey already had his gun trained on the thug. The man dropped his weapon and raised his hands. Morrissey shot him through his gun hand anyway.
"You asshole!" the thug shouted, dropping to his knees and clutching his bloody hand.
Morrissey held his gun on him.
"Penny, get Melody and take her next door. Neither of you need to see what's about to happen next." Penny knelt and tugged on Melody.
"Come on sweetie, let's get out of here."
Melody looked up at Penny.
"Lulu?"she said, in a daze.
"Yeh," Penny answered. "It's me, Lulu."
THE ART OF INTERROGATION
Morrissey motioned with his gun to the man on his knees clutching his bloody hand.
"Get up off the floor and lay down on the bed." The thug staggered to his feet.
"Hey, look," he slobbered. "You've got it all wrong..."
"Shut up and lay down." The thug crawled onto the bed. "On your back." He laid there looking up at Morrissy, his face contorted by the pain of his throbbing hand. "Are you comfortable?" Morrissey asked, as he reached into his pocket. "Hold out your hand. Not the one with the hole in it, asshole." He slapped a cuff on the guy's wrist and cuffed him to the headboard. "Here's the way we're going to play now," Morrissey said, as he pulled up a chair next to the bed and sat down. "I'm going to ask you some questions. Every time I don't like your answer, I'm going to pistol whip your face. You understand the game?" The thug nodded frantically. "I'm going to start with your nose. Then, I'm going to knock your teeth out. After that, I haven't decided what I am going to do with your eyeballs. Maybe hang them on the rear view mirror in my car. It helps to have an extra pair of eyes when you're on the road these days. Get the picture?"
"Yes, for Christ's sake! I'll tell you whatever you want to know," the thug sputtered.
"Good," Morrissey said, reaching for his smokes. "First, let's just get acquainted," he said, as he lit up a cigarette. "What's your name?"
"Jack. Jack Guadamole."
""Guadamoley,eh? What do your pals call you? Jack the Mole? Jack the Jerk? Never mind, you don't have to answer that one." Morrissey stood and bent over him. "Roll over on your side." He fished into the guy's back pocket and pulled out a wallet, and opened it. "Quite a wad of greenbacks you got here, Moley." He threw the bills onto the carpet. "We'll just leave that for room service since they are going to have a hell of a job cleaning this place up." He fished a driver's license out and looked down at it. "Ok, then. Guadamoley, it is," he said, tossing it on the floor. He stared down at the guy. "Look at you. You're a bloody mess! If you would calm down a little you probably wouldn't bleed so much." He walked into the bathroom, and returned with a towel. "Hold your hand out." Morrissey tied the towel around the guy's bloody hand. "I wouldn't want you to bleed to death. Not yet, anyway," he said, holding his cigarette in the corner of his mouth. He sat down again. "You know, its not easy beating the shit out of somebody," he said. "You're probably a nice guy deep down inside." He scratched his chin with the barrel of his gun. He stood again and grabbed a pillow. "Lift your head Mole Man." He stuffed the pillow behind the guy's head. "Comfortable?" The guy nodded. Morrissey sat down again. "Good, the way I figure it - if I do have to kill you, at least I made you comfortable first. Not too many people get to die in bed. You got a wife and kids, Moley?" The guy nodded.
"I got two kids. Another on the way."
"Aw, that's nice," Morrissey smiled. He patted the guy's leg. "Look, I'm a nice guy, you know. So, if I do have to kill you, I'll try to let the family know you were thinking of them. Ok, let's get back to the game. Where was I? Where do you live Mole man?"
"Miami," the guy said, looking over at Morrissey. "Can I get a cigarette?" he asked. Morrissey picked his pack up off the nightstand and looked at it.
"Damn," he muttered, looking over to the guy. "I only have ten left. No hard feelings, but I've got to hold onto these. There's something about torturing someone that makes me want to chain-smoke." He leaned forward in his chair. "Who are you working for, Mole?"
"Some guy in Vegas," the thug answered. Morrissey stood, and pushed the chair back.
"Ooh! Wrong answer!"
THE NAME GAME
Penny sat beside Melody on the bed. There was a loud wailing scream from the room next door.
"What's he doing to the guy, Lulu?" Melody asked. Penny put her arm around her.
"Don't worry about it. I'm sure Cully is just having a little chat with him," she answered.
"Cully? Who's Cully?"
"I meant Marcus," Penny said.
"But you just called him Cully," Melody said, turning toward Penny.
"Ok, look Melody," Penny said. "When we were in Vegas, we went by the names of Marcus and Lulu. We knew we would be dealing with the mob, so we made up fake names. I'm actually Penny. And Marcus is actually Cully. We had a client who wanted us to get this guy Bonaventure off her back."
"Did you say off HER back?" Melody said.
""Yeh, Evelyn Kierikas. She was wanting us to find you and bring you back to her." Melody jumped up, backing to the door.
"No way," she said. Penny got up off the bed and walked toward her.
"Stay away from me," Melody screamed. Penny stopped.
"Melody, calm down...calm down. It's ok."
"No!" Melody shouted. "Its not ok! Evelyn's the one that sent that guy in the other room to get me. And I'm not going back!" She turned, and reached for the door.
"Melody, wait!" Suddenly the door opened, and Melody ran straight into Cully.
"Whoa," Cully said, grabbing her, and pushing her back into the room.
"Let me out of here!" Melody screamed.
"Cully," Penny yelled. "It was Evelyn who sent the guy."
"I know," Cully said. "I already got that out of Mr. Nice Guy next door. It cost him his pretty nose, but he told me." Cully coaxed Melody back onto the side of the bed. "Take it easy, Melody. We're not taking you back to Evelyn." Melody began to cry hysterically, her hands clutching her face.
"She's just going to send someone else after me," she sobbed.
"That's the way I figure it too," Cully said, looking over at Penny. "Penny we need to get all our shit together and get out of here. I'm gonna go get Mr. Nice Guy to a hospital and dump him. When you hear me pull out, take Melody next door and get her stuff. Go over to the bar next door and wait for me. I'll just be a few minutes."
ONE GOOD TURN DESERVES ANOTHER
"Look," Cully said to the thug holding the blood soaked towel to his face.
"You did me a favor. So now I'm going to do you a favor, Mole Man." He reached to uncuff the thug from the bed. "I'm going to get you to a hospital so they can get you fixed up." He grabbed the guy by the hair and yanked. "Look at me, and listen carefully. I want you to go back to Kierikas, and tell her Morrissey said hello. You got that?" The thug nodded. "Ok then," Morrisey said, helping him off the bed. "Let's go."
Morrisey helped him into the front seat of the torpedo.
"Ok, What are you going to tell Kieriakas?"
"Morrissy said hello."
"That's right. Morrissey said hello. Don't forget that name."
"I won't," the thug answered weakly.
"Good. Oh, and one more thing..." Morrissey slammed the barrel of his pistol down on the thug's head knocking him out. "Ok. Let's get you to a hospital."
He pulled up to the emergency room doors at the hospital, reached across the guy and opened the door. "Get well soon, Mole Man," he said, as he pushed him out onto the sidewalk and sped away.
Penny led Melody by the hand as they stepped into the bar. The place was nearly empty. She eyed two guys bellied to the bar. Jocks watching a baseball game on the tv overhead.
"Come on," Penny said quietly as she led Melody to a table by the window. She glanced cautiously outside. She could see over to the motel. Nothing happening there. Nevertheless, life seemed now to feel like some kind of ticking bomb. They sat down, and Penny looked down into her purse on the seat next to her. She laid the chamber open on her .38 and spun it. Loaded. She clicked it closed and smiled as the bartender strolled up.
"Good evening ladies. What'll it be? Coffee, tea, bourbon, or me?"
Penny offered up a fake smile.
"You mean we can't have all of the above?"
"Darlin' you can have it all," the bartender smiled.
"Actually, we're waiting on my boyfriend. JImmy Gallanto, ever heard of him?"
"Can't say I have," the bartender said.
"He's a boxer. Welterweight." Penny looked over to Melody. "What do you want, sugar?"
"Bourbon on the rocks."
"Make that two," Penny said. She looked out the window.
Morrissey spit into his handkerchief and rubbed the blood stain on the seat next to him as he drove back toward the motel. "Can't believe that jerk had the gall to bleed on my upholstery," he muttered to himself. He cruised slowly past the motel looking over toward the rooms. Nothing moving. He pulled up to the bar. Penny knocked on the windowpane as he got out of the car. Time for a little pow-wow with the girls. He took one more glance over to the motel and walked into the bar.
The bartender came back and set two drinks down. He smiled at Morrissey and stuck out his hand.
"Mister Gallanto, its a pleasure to meet you." Morrissey shook his hand.
"I'll have another one of those," Morrissey said, pointing to the bourbons on the table.
"Yes sir," the bartender said, hurrying back to the bar. Morrissey shot Penny a dubious glance.
"Mister Gallanto?" he said. Penny giggled as she picked up her drink.
"The guy was flirting with us, so I told him my boyfriend was a professional boxer."
The bartender returned with another bourbon.
"It's on me, Mister Gallanto," he said, with a big smile. "Do you think I could get your autograph?"
"Sure," Morrissey said, scribbling 'Gallanto' on the cocktail napkin.
"Got any fights coming up?" the bartender asked.
"Look," Morrissey replied. "I'm just trying to have a nice night with my lady friends here. But, yeh. Two weeks from now. I can't even remember this joker's name. He's a nobody. But, I'll give you a tip. He's going down in the 6th round. So, can I get a little peace and quiet now?"
"Yes sir, Mister Gallanto," he said, hurrying off and looking down at his autographed napkin.
"You guys are too much," Melody said. Morrissey took a drink.
"Ok look," he said. "Let's cut to the chase. Here's the thing. You're in good hands now, Melody. Penny and I are going to make sure of that. So, try to relax. We're going to slam a couple of drinks and get out of here. But, first of all, I need you to tell us what Evelyn Kieriakas is up to." Melody took a big drink and shivered.
"You mean you don't know?" she said.
"We know she's pimping girls," Penny said.
"Its worse than that," Melody replied, her eyes welling up. Morrissey put his arm around Melody.
"Tell us, Melody. What's she up to?"
"Evelyn buys and sells women. She goes all over the world with a shopping list of sorts. A list of what her customers want. She makes these promises to foolish girls who want to believe her. She says she can make them into models, actresses, make them stars of some kind in America. Then she gets you get here and it is a fucking nightmare."
"Is that what happened to you, Melody?" Melody nodded.
"I was such a stupid little girl. My parents even went along with it. Then Evelyn traded me off to Bonaventure. You know the rest."
"Why did she trade you off, as you put it?" Morrissey said, grinding his teeth in recalling the way Evelyn had duped him too. How she even had him massaging her feet. How she fed him money like doggy treats. Melody wiped her face with her hands, and took a deep breath.
"The mob had made a move to take over Palm Beach. Push her out. She made a deal with Bonaventure to trade off several girls in order to stay in the game. When you guys came to Vegas and took out Bonaventure, Evelyn put out a hit on me. I guess she was afraid I would rat her out. Then when my parents tried to help me hide, she had them killed." Melody broke down into heavy sobbing and Morrissey pulled her to him.
"Shhh... I've heard enough," he said softly, his own eyes beginning to well. He looked over at Penny. "Let's get the hell out of here."
They drove off into the night. Melody curled up in the back seat and fell asleep in a matter of minutes. Penny was beginning to nod off, her head leaned up against the car door window. The Studebaker hummed along. Morrissey stared straight ahead. He had a lot to think about.
Morrissey twisted his head one way and then the other trying to pop the knot in his neck. He made notes inside his head as he drove on through the night headed northeast out of Montgomery on the highway to Atlanta. He re-traced the last several days. The Mole Man couldn't possibly have found Melody unless he had been tracking her all the way up from Orange Grove. It must have been him who killed Melody's parents. Most likely he had forced them to give him some clues to Melody's whereabouts, before putting bullets in their heads. He made a note to knock off Mole Man once the thug had given Kieriakas his message to her. He was playing out the scenarios in his head. Mole Man must have known Melody was headed toward Atlanta.
He came to a junction in the road and veered off on a more westerly route. Kieriakas would have people on the look-out for them in Atlanta, so Tuscaloosa sounded like a better place to lay low. The sky went from black to midnight blue and then to streaks of pink as morning threw its first rays on the city of Tusaloosa in the distance. Tuscaloosa, home of the Crimson Tide. Perfect.
THE ART OF HIDING
Penny stretched and yawned. "Where are we?" she said, as she rubbed her eyes with her fists.
"Pulling into Tuscaloosa," Morrissey said, smiling over at her. "Hungry?" Penny nodded and looked back at Melody curled into a fetal ball on the back seat. Morrissey pulled off at a place called The Crimson Chow House. "This looks good," he said pulling into the parking lot.
Morrissey stood outside the Studebaker stretching and yawning and trying to rub on that damned fibroid knot h down along his shoulder blade where he couldn't quite reach it. He glanced over at Penny kneeling bent over on the car seat trying to wake up Melody. She ran her hand gently through Melody's hair and along her cheek trying to wake her up without scaring her. Morrissey smiled at the girls as they climbed out of the car, their hair quite disheveled, their clothing wrinkled, sleepy puffy eyes. There was something sweet about that. Something intimate and personal.
The Chow House was busy with morning people chattering and reading the daily news over their coffee. There was the clattering of dishes, glasses, and silverware as a busboy cleared a booth and waved them with a rag in his hand.
"I really like this upholstery," Penny said sliding in over the cushioned red naugahide seats trimmed in white. Melody sat down beside her. "Don't you think this is nice?" Penny said to Cully.
"Think what's nice?" Cully answered, still looking about the room getting a quick fix on people seated here and there.
"This upholstery, don't you think its nice"
"Yeh, sure," cully nodded. "Maybe we should get the torpedo's seats covered like this." The waitress approached, chewing gum and pulling a pencil out of her black bouffant hair. She produced a tablet from the pocket of her apron.
"'Mornin' folks. Get you started with a little coffee?" They all nodded. And she disappeared. Melody said she need to go to the girl's room and splash off. Cully gave Penny a wink and a sideward nod to go with her. He sat there drumming his fingers on the formica table top and pondering the plan.
The 'Number 3' Breakfast plates the waitress recommended arrived with ridiculously generous servings of eggs, bacon, sausage, cheese grits, pancakes, piping hot biscuits and jam. For several minutes the three of them sat there eating like pigs at a trough.
"I guess we need to get a room somewhere," Penny said to Cully. "You haven't slept in two days."
"Well," Cully replied, as he leaned back in the booth and let out a notch in his belt. "Here's what I think. I think I need to make a quick run up to Terre Haute and see what's going on."
"You mean leave us here?" Penny asked. Cully nodded.
"It'll just be for a couple of days. You two can drop me off at the airport and I'll catch a plane. You can take the torpedo and find a motel. Somewhere close to the University campus. I want you to go shopping. Check out what the college girls are wearing. Dress like them. Get yourselves a couple of Crimson Tide sweatshirts, jogging shorts, whatever. This town is crawling with U of A college kids. So, blend in. Dig the scene."
"But, how will we know where you are?" Penny asked.
"Call Mickey, he'll know. I'll check out my apartment but probably won't stay there. I'll check out your place too."
"I'm a little nervous about this, Cully," Penny said.
"So am I," Melody added. Cully leaned forward over the table.
"Look, my guess is that Kierikas has got a few Joes out looking for us. Most likely they think we're going to show in Atlanta. That's why we're here, instead. I need to talk to Mickey and get a few things lined up. Then, I'll come back and we are going to hit Florida and wind up all this business with Kierikas." He glanced over to Melody. "We're going to settle the score, Melody."
"You're scaring the shit out of me," Melody said.
"Don't be scared. Penny will be right here with you. I want you to just relax. Have some fun. Go shopping. Sit by the pool. Get your hair done. Do whatever a couple of girls would do. Hit the campus bars and check out the hunks." Penny giggled.
"Them 'Bama boys are cute, Melody," she said.
Cully opened the trunk of the torpedo in the airport parking lot, and pulled out the spare tire. He reached down for a small grey metal box and opened it. He stuffed a handful of bills into his pocket and handed the box to Penny.
"Here. This is your bank. Have a party. Take Melody shopping." He turned to Melody. "Kierikas fronted us a lot of dough to find you and bring you back. But, things have changed now. All I am asking for you and Penny to do right now is have some fun at Evelyn's expense." Melody smiled and hugged him.
"You're really pretty when you smile, Melody. You are in good hands with Penny."
He turned to Penny. "Come here, Penny." He put his arms around her. "I love you," he whispered in her ear. "I love you too," she said. Melody stepped away to give them their moment. "Penny, I want you to go to a pawn shop, pick up a .38 for Melody. Take her for a drive outside of town somewhere, and show her how to use it."
"Ok," Penny replied. He cupped her face in his hands. "We've got a few more pieces of business to take care of, and then its just you and me, right?" She nodded. They kissed.
Morrissey took one look back as he walked toward the terminal. The girls were leaning on the front of the car, their arms around each other. They waved. He waved back.
CATCHING UP WITH MICKEY
The plane came down through the dark clouds and into a pouring rain. Morrissey stared out the window as the city came to view. A city of concrete, asphalt, brick and stone. Cold and hard. The dreariness of having lived and worked in Terre Haute too long came over him like a blanket of sludge. He caught a cab to the downtown station. Time to drop in on the boys, see what's been going on in sin city. Mickey was perched as usual at the front desk, leafing through a newspaper.
"Cully!" he exclaimed as he glanced up. "Where the hell you been?"
Morrissey slapped him on the back and shook his hand. "Good to see you, Mickey. You doing alright?"
"Oh yeh, you know how it is Cully, same old baloney day in, day out. Where's Penny?"
"I left her and Melody down in Alabama for a few days," Morrissey replied.
"You found the Johannsson girl?" Mikey nodded.
"Yeh, I'll fill you in later. Listen Mick, Penny might call here looking for me. I told her not to talk to anybody but you. If she calls get the phone number for where she's staying.
"No problem. Some kind of heat going down?" Mickey asked.
"You might say that. You come up on anything about this Walt Thornton guy?"
"Well, we staked out your neighborhood for a few days. I went by there a couple of times after work and hung out at Penny's place to see if he'd show. But, basically I figure he's gone back to Ohio. At least we haven't seen any sign of him, and we put out a bulletin on his car. Nothing. I found out he does have a pretty nasty rap sheet over in Toledo though. Several counts of domestic assault."
Cully nodded. "That's about what I expected. Were you able to get any kind of address on him?"
"Yeh. We know his last address. Whether he's still living there, I couldn't say. The boys in Toledo said they couldn't go hunting him down without just cause and a warrant. So, that's about all we got so far."
Morrissey scratched his chin, and waved to a couple of the guys from homicide on their way out the door.
"Anyway you could get an afternoon off, Mick?"
"Probably. What's up?"
"I was thinking you and me could take a little ride over to Toledo and poke around a bit."
"Hell, yeh," Mickey answered. "Let's go find the son of a bitch. How about tomorrow? I'll work the morning and break at lunch. We can take my car."
"Thanks, Mick," Morrissey said. "I'm going to head over to my place and take a look at Penny's apartment."
"Well, this Thornton guy went on a rampage there, I'll tell you that much. Everything is just like he left it - a big fucking mess. We've got the door taped off as a crime scene."
THE TROUBLE WITH TOLEDO
Mickey swung by Morrissey's place and honked. Morrissey came down the steps of his apartment building looking up and down the street as he approached the car. He was in a bad mood about what Walt Thornton had done to Penny's apartment.
"Ok Mickey, rock and roll!" he said as he got into the car. "Hope you told the wife you'd be later for supper." Mickey laughed.
"She's cool with it, she thinks we're just having a boy's night out. I told her not to wait up."
It was about a five hour drive to Toledo. Morrissey caught Mickey up on the Melody Johannson story, and how he had a score yet to settle with Evelyn Kierikas down in Palm Beach. Mickey let out a whistle.
"Ooh Cully. You gotta watch it down there. There's a lot of turf wars goin' on. You're liable to walk into a loaded situation."
"Yeh, I know," Morrissey answered. "I'm thinking it through real careful like. I figure I'd need to get in and get out of there in a hurry. She's got some real thugs working for her."
"Let me know if you want some company," Mickey said. "So what are you thinking? You gonna just plug the bitch?" Morrissey nodded.
"Yeh, I hate to beat up on women even if they're monsters. Putting a bullet in her head clean and simple would be an act of kindness, so to speak."
The sun had just gone down when Morrissey and Mickey pulled down the street where Walter Thornton was supposedly living. It was a pretty dismal neighborhood. Rows of run-down tenement houses, some of them abandoned and boarded up. Empty lots here and there with junked cars overrun with weeds and vines.
"Pretty classy neighborhood this Thornton guy lives in," Mickey said. They cruised slowly down the next block passing several shabby looking characters jiving on the sidewalk and swigging quart bottles of beer in brown paper bags. Mickey slowed down and pulled to the curb. "That's the place over there," he said, with a nod of his head. Morrissey stared over at the building.
"Looks like the kind of hole a rat would live in, alright."
"Yeh," Mickey said. "And there's the car he was seen in outside Penny's place. So, how do you want to go with this, Cully?"
"I just want you for a little back up, Mick. I'll handle it," Cully replied.
"Yeh, ok. But I mean, you planning on taking the guy out?"
"Let's just say I'm going to pound a little sense into his thick skull," Morrissey muttered.
WHAT'S A GIRL TO DO?
Penny and Melody found a gun store in Tuscaloosa and picked up a.38 for Melody. And then they went shopping for clothes. Melody got a dark blue pleated skirt, a white blouse, and a small red backpack with a University of Alabama logo embossed on it.
Penny went with the black slacks and matching jacket. She got the same backpack since they had noticed a lot of local girls carrying that kind. Penny was happy to see Melody looking happy.
"You look hot, lady!" she said to Melody. Melody giggled.
"So do you."
They strolled past a salon.
"What do you think, Melody? Crimson red nails?"
"Definitely!" Melody answered.
The girls stood in front of the full length mirror in the motel room. Penny demonstrated the way to handle a .38. She even passed on the little trick Cully had taught her about shooting a gun that is still in your purse. Except in this case it was in a backpack. She told Melody about how she plugged Doyle in the head that way, and how she also almost shot Cully in the foot.
"Now, the knife. I forgot to get you a knife. We'll get one tomorrow. Meanwhile check out mine." She showed Melody how to hold it, how to snap it open with a squeeze of the handle. "Here's the thing Melody. Hold it with the sharp edge straight up. Hold it waist high and jab. If you are real pissed and want to do some serious damage, you stick the guy and then jerk it straight up inside him." She grabbed a pillow off the bed and set it upright in a chair. "Give it a try," she said, handing the blade to Melody. Melody took a stab. "No, no, no," Penny said. "You've got to really jam it. Like you want it to come out the other side. Like this." Penny lunged at the pillow. "You bastard!" she screamed. Feathers went flying out of the pillow. They both laughed. "Try it again," Penny said. Melody took the knife. "Do it like you mean it."
"I hate you, you fucking asshole!" Melody screamed. Another flurry of feathers flew out and floated to the floor.
"That's the spirit," Penny said. "Now you're getting the hang of it. Ok, that's enough for tonight. Tomorrow we'll get in a little target practice. Let's take a bubble bath."
"Ooh," Melody laughed. "That sounds good! With wine."
"Yes! With wine!"
Morrissey made his way up the creaky wooden steps to the landing, with Micky following close behind. He glanced back to Mickey.
"This should be fun," he said, with a smile. He knocked calmly on the door.
"Just a minute," a voice called from the other side. The door swung open.
"Wally!" Morrissey said with a smile.
"Who the fuck are you?" Thornton replied, attempting to close the door. Morrissey stepped forward and pushed him back into the room.
"Wally, Wally, Is that any way to talk to your ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend?"
"Get the fuck out of my house," Thornton shouted.
"No Wally, you sit your ass down," Morrissey said, grabbing him by his shirt collar and throwing him onto the couch. "I just want to have a little friendly conversation with you Wally, that's all."
"Where is she?" Thornton asked angrily.
"You mean Penny? Oh, Penny's long gone Wally. After that interior decorating job you did on her apartment, she split for the west coast. And the thing is, that sorta pisses me off since, before you came along, me and Penny were having a real nice time." Morrissey looked around the room. "Hey Mick check it out," he said, pointing to a Cleveland Indians pennant on the wall. "You a big baseball fan, are you Wally?" Thornton started to get up off the couch.
"Sit the fuck down," Mickey shouted taking a quick step toward him. "Oh hey, what have we here?" Morrissey said, picking up a baseball bat from the corner of the room. "Well, I'll be damned," he said, looking it over. "Check it out, Mick. "Signed by Rocky Colavito!"
"No shit," Mickey said. "Too bad the Indians traded him off last year. The Indians have sucked every game since."
"Yeh," Morrissey said, brandishing the bat in both hands feeling its heft. "That Rocky, he could knock 'em outa the park with this sucker." He took a sudden swing shattering a large ceramic lamp that was sitting on a side table. "Blam! Just like that!" The lamp crashed to the floor sending pieces flying across it. He held the bat up and looked at the signature again. "Wasn't he number one in home runs last year for the American League, Mickey?"
"Yep. That's why I say it was stupid for the them to trade him to Detroit," Mickey muttered. Morrissey brought the bat down like a sledge hammer on the coffee table.
"Blam! Yeh ol' Rocco he could do some damage when he stepped up to the plate."
"Hey, come the fuck on, man!" Thornton said, as Morrissey took a few more swings at the table breaking it in half.
"Hey, calm down Wally. I was just doing some interior decorating. I thought you liked interior decorating." Morrissey cocked the bat over his shoulder. "The pitcher is spitting on his fingers...he's winding up...here comes the pitch...a fast ball...Blam!" There was a loud cracking sound as Morrissey swung the bat catching Thornton on the kneecap. Thornton screamed, rolling onto the floor and clutching his leg.
"You mother fucker!" Thornton shouted.
"What did he just say?" Morrissey asked, looking over at Mickey. Mickey shrugged. "I think he said something about fucking your mother."
"I guess I need to break his other leg," Morrissey said.
"No don't!" Thornton pleaded still clutching his leg in pain.
"You see Wally, when you go beating up on a girl, sooner or later her new boyfriend finds out about that. Then her new boyfriend comes over and breaks your leg. In fact, he breaks both your legs." Morrissey swung the bat again. Blam! Crack! Morrissey looked down at him. "You know Wally, those legs don't look too good. They look all crooked."
"Maybe if we pulled on them we could straighten them out," Mickey said.
"Oh, that's a good idea," Morrissey said, reaching for one of Thornton's ankles.
"No!" Thornton screamed. "Please, No!" Morrissey knelt down next to him and grabbed him by the hair.
"Now listen to me you piece of shit. If you ever come near Penny again, I will kill you. If you try to find her, try to call her, I will kill you. If you even show your face in the same town, I will kill you. Am I making my point?"
"Yes, yes.." Thornton sobbed.
"Ok," Morrissey said, as he stood and looked down at him. He looked over at Mickey. "What do you think, Mick? Do you think he gets the point?" Mickey shrugged.
"I don't know. Maybe you ought to go ahead and kill him now."
"Yeh, maybe you're right." He reached inside his jacket and pulled out his gun. He cocked the hammer back and aimed it at Thornton's face. "You're a sorry piece a shit, say it."
"I'm a sorry piece of shit," Thornton sobbed.
"And you deserve to die, say it."
"God no, please," Thornton cried.
"I...I...I... deserve to die." Morrissey pulled the trigger and fired a round into the floor next to Thornton's head.
"Next time, I won't miss," he said. "Let's get out of this dump," he said, turning to Mickey "I'm kinda hungry."
Morrissey took Mickey to a steakhouse in Toledo before they made the drive back to Terre Haute.
"Thanks Cully," Mickey said. "I haven't had a steak like this in I don't know how long."
"Hey, thanks for coming over here to help me set this guy straight," Morrisey replied.
"Hell, I didn't do anything but stand around and watch," Mickey said.
"Yeh, but I felt a lot better knowing I had back up. For all we knew he could have been sitting around with a couple of his buddies, and he might have turned the cards on me. Do you think I roughed him up too much?"
"Hell no!" Mickey answered. After that shit he pulled on Penny? She had to leave Toledo to get away from the creep. Besides, there's over 200 hundred bones in the human body, and you only broke two of his. He got off easy. I think you got through to him though. So, what are you thinking about this Kieriakas woman, Cully?"
"I'm still working it out in my head. But let me ask you this, Mick. How would you like to take the wife and kids for a little vacation down to Florida? It would be on me. We could get in some fishing, like we've talked about doing."
"You want my help, Cully? Yeh, I'll come down. I got a little vacation time coming."
"I wouldn't put you in harm's way, Mick. You've got a family. But, I may need another set of eyes, or something like that," Cully said.
"Just say the word, Cully," Mickey said, as they got up to leave.
I need to think it out a little. And I need to head back to Tuscaloosa in the morning and check on the girls. Why don't I give you a call in a couple of days, and we'll see."
LONG DISTANCE CALL
Morrissey got back to his apartment a little before dawn and fell wearily across his bed. He woke up a few hours later and called the airport to book a flight. Then he made another call.
"Hello," she said.
"Evelyn? It's Cully."
"Cully! I'm so glad you called, I was worried about you."
"Oh, fuck you," Morrissey said. "You sent one of your thugs out to nail Melody. You want to explain that one to me?"
"Cully, believe me I would never hurt Melody. I love her," Evelyn answered.
"That's not the story I got from Guadamole while I was beating the shit out of him."
"I swear to you, Cully, that was some kind of misunderstanding."
"To say it was a misunderstanding is an under-statement, Evelyn. You put me on the job to find Melody. Then you go send out some jerk to try to kill her."
"Cully, darling. You're over-reacting. Guadamole was just going to make sure she came back to me."
"Oh, cut the 'darling' crap. He had her pinned to the floor in a motel room with a cocked gun to her head. You must love her a lot to make her fear for her life, Evelyn."
"What can I say, the guy has no suave. I'm sorry it ever happened."
"Well, it did happen, Evelyn. And I'm beginning to lose my own 'suave', as you put it. I've got Melody."
"Cully, please bring her to me," Evelyn said.
"We'll have to talk about that. You sent out one of your stooges and put him at cross-purposes with me. The price just went up for having to deal with such shit."
"Name it, Cully. Just tell me how much," Evelyn replied.
"I'll call you in a couple of days. The next idiot you put in my path will die in a very gruesome way. And you will never see Melody again, you got that?"
"You have my word, Cully. Where is she?"
"Do you really think I am that stupid, Evelyn?" Morrissey shouted as he hung up the phone.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Penny and Melody took a drive out into the countryside and pulled off onto a dirt road that led down to a river.
"Ok," Penny said, handing Melody a box of bullets. "Load your gun."
They both sat there loading their .38s.
"I feel like some kind of outlaw," Melody chuckled.
"We are," Penny replied. "We are mean hombres, Melody. Desperados. Come on, let's go." They walked down to the water's edge.
"Ok, Melody, Penny said. "See that guy over there?"
"What guy?" Melody asked as she looked off to where Penny was pointing.
"That beer can lying by the base of the tree."
"Oh, that guy," Melody giggled.
"Yeh. That guy. He's a real asshole, Melody. He treats women like dirt. He's like some kind of serial-rapist. We need to put him out of business. Permanently."
Melody giggled again.
"It's not funny, Melody. He raped your sister!"
"I don't have a sister," Melody said.
"Well, pretend. Now, bring your gun up slowly. Use both hands. Cup your gun hand with your other hand. Take the safety off. Now, look right down the barrel of your gun. Make sure you've got it nice and straight. Have you got a good bead on him?"
"I think so," Melody said, squinting with one eye and cocking her head. Now say real quietly, 'Eat lead, mother fucker' and take him out nice and easy."
"Eat lead, you sister fucker," Melody muttered as she pulled the trigger. The shot sent up a spray of water out in the middle of the river. "Well damn!" Melody said. "I missed."
"Yeh. You missed. And if the beer can had a gun you'd be dead right now. Look, when you pulled the trigger, you yanked on it. Your whole arm moved. You've got to lock that arm in one place. From your shoulder all the way down to your arm, its one piece of steel that doesn't move. And when you pull the trigger, just give it a nice slow steady squeeze. Try it again."
The next shot hit the dirt a few feet in front of the can.
"Much better," Penny said. Try it again. Melody took aim.
"Take this, you fucking can!" The can went flying. "I killed him! I killed him!"
"Maybe not," Penny said. "You might have just winged him. Move in nice and slow until you can see where he went." Penny sat down in the tall grass watching Melody stalking the serial rapist beer can. She stopped and took aim. She missed and looked back at Penny.
"Don't look at me," Penny said. "Keep shooting. He's going for his gun!" Melody fired off two more rounds. The second one sent the can flying out into the water.
"Keep shooting Melody! He's getting away." Melody ran down to the water's edge, as the can began drifting away.
"You fucking can!" Melody shouted, pulling the trigger again.
"I'm out of bullets!" Penny walked over to Melody and took her gun.
"Here take mine," she said handing Melody her gun. "Now shoot the son of a bitch, he's trying to swim away."
Melody took aim again at the bobbing can. She sighted down the barrel carefully and pulled off three fast rounds. The can disappeared.
"I got him Penny! I killed the son of a bitch!" Penny applauded as Melody turned to her, pretending to blow smoke off the barrel of her gun.
Penny sat down again and re-loaded the empty .38 as she watched Melody looking around for something else to kill. After giving her the opportunity to fire off a couple dozen rounds at whatever she could find, they got in the car and drove back into town.
"What do you think, Penny? Did I do ok?" Melody asked.
"Hell, you just blew away half a town back there. You're one mean bitch!" Melody laughed.
"Yeh. I am. I'm one mean bitch." She leaned over and kissed Penny on the cheek.
"Thanks, Penny." Penny glanced at her and smiled.
"Let's go get drunk and see what these 'Bama boys are all about."
"Oh yeh! Wham, Bam, thank you ma'am, Bama Boys!" Melody laughed. Penny drove on into town, glancing over at Melody now and then. She pulled into a pawn shop.
"Let's see if we can trade these 38s in for more fire power," Penny said. The girls walked in and laid their .38s on the counter. A balding man approached from the other side.
"What can I do for you, ladies?"
"We want to trade these out for a couple of 9mms, and a couple of boxes of clips."
The man looked down at the guns. He picked one up and sniffed at it.
"You didn't just kill somebody with this, did you?"
"Naw, we jus' been out pilferin' groundhogs," Penny said with a southern drawl.
"So now you're just wanting a couple of 9mms so you can kill more groundhogs faster, is that it?"
"Exactly!" Penny said placing both hands on the counter and leaning toward the man. "Do you want to do business or not?"
"Yeh sure," the man said. "It will cost you though. You can't just swap out a .38 for a 9mm."
"I wasn't born yesterday," Penny scoffed. "What have you got? We're in a hurry."
"Yeh, Melody chimed in. "We got miles to go, and promises to keep." Penny shot Melody a glance that meant shut up. They walked out a few minutes later with two 9mms and a dozen loaded clips. They jumped back into the torpedo.
"What the hell was that?" Penny said, as she fired it up.
"What was what?" Melody said.
"Miles of promises...whatever," Penny replied.
"I don't know. I read it in a poetry book. I thought it sounded cool." Penny looked over at her.
"Guys in pawn shops don't give a shit about poetry Melody." She pulled back out onto the highway. "Let's hit the strip," she said.
"Shall we?" Melody replied.
"Shall we? Don't say 'shall we'. Say Fuck, yeh!"
"Fuck, yeh," Melody laughed.
IN THE SKY
Morrissey tilted his seat back as the plane took off and left Terre Haute behind. He closed his eyes and went through scenarios in his mind. It was right about the time the seat belt light came on, that it occurred to him what the next steps needed to be. He would need Mickey, and the girls too. But it could work and be a good situation for everybody. Everybody except Evelyn Kieriakas, of course.
WELCOME HOME PARTY
Melody and Penny had a few drinks along the strip near the campus mostly giggling about the guys who kept giving them the eye. They rated the jocks from one to ten on the tightness of their jeans. Penny encouraged Melody to flirt with one of them and maybe get lucky.
"I'm not ready for it Penny. I wish I was, but right now, I feel so mixed up. I mean I want it sure, but after what I've been through right now I just cringe at the idea of a man touching me."
"I know," Penny empathized. "I've had that feeling too after Walt Thornton fucked with my life. I guess I was lucky when Cully came along."
"Cully's different," Melody said. "He may be the only man I could trust right now, that I feel safe around right now."
"You just have to give it time Melody. Cully and I both want you to put those nightmares behind you."
"You and Cully saved my life, Penny. Bonaventure would have killed me sooner or later."
"I know, Penny said. "What do you say we go back to the motel?"
Back at the motel they laid on the bed facing each other and exchanging confidences. Penny told her about how this guy had been such a plague on her existence and how she had to run away.
"And that's how I met Cully," she said. Melody smiled.
"Cully's got it for you bad."
"You think so?" Penny said.
"Oh yeh!" Melody answered with a giggle.
"I've got it bad for him too," Penny said.
"Well duh!" Melody exclaimed.
"Melody. Tell me more about Evelyn."
"At first I liked her. She made me feel good. She made me feel like I was really going to go places. Then when she got me to Palm Beach she started coming on to me."
"You mean like girl-girl love?" Penny said. Melody nodded, as she adjusted the pillow beneath her head.
"So, what did you do?" Penny asked.
"Well, at first I just sorta accepted it. Let her hold me. Kiss on me."
"But, you weren't into it?" Penny asked.
"No. I mean I've kissed girls before. But it was just playing around. Like practicing for when a boy comes along."
"Oh my god, I did that too! I was sorta worried about it though, because I sorta liked it, but I didn't want to be a lesbian."
"Me either," Melody said. They laid there smiling at each other for a long moment.
"Do you want to kiss me, Penny? You know, pretend I'm Cully?" Penny put her hand to her mouth, blushing and giggling.
"Do you want me to?"
"If you want to," Melody said.
"But you have to pretend you're kissing somebody else too."
"Ok," Melody said.
"Who? Who will you pretend I am?"
"Umm," Melody said. "Maybe one of those guys down at the bar." Penny laughed nervously. "You mean that guy in the number ten jeans?"
"Definitely," Melody answered. They slid closer to each other. Melody wrapped her arms around Penny. Their lips met lightly at first. Their hands caressed each other's face and hair. They didn't hear the key turning in the lock. Or the door swinging open.
"I'm back!" Morrissey said, as he stepped into the room. He looked over to the bed. Penny and Melody sitting bolt upright hugging the blanket to themselves. He broke into laughter. "Well" he said. "When the cat's away, the mice do play, don't they?"
"Its not what you think," Penny blurted.
"Oh really?" Morrissey said, with a smile. "What was I thinking?"
"I don't know," Penny said, buttoning her pajama top.
"I was just thinking these girls look guilty as hell about something or other."
"We were just playing around," Melody said. Morrissey laughed.
"Well, don't let me stop you, I'm going to go take a shower." He looked back at them as he headed into the bathroom. "Yes indeed. The mice do play!"
"Melody," Penny whispered as the bathroom door closed. "Go get in the other bed!"
"Sorry," Melody giggled.
"Oh my god!" Penny said, as she pushed on Melody. "Go on! Get over there!" Melody crawled under the blanket on the other bed, looking over to Penny.
"You've got nice lips," she whispered.
"So do you," Penny whispered back. "Now shut up, and go to sleep!" Melody laid her head down on the pillow and closed her eyes. She made fake snoring sounds.
"Melody, damn it!" Penny whispered loudly.
"Ok, ok," Melody said, turning to face the wall.
THE MORNING AFTER
The girls took turns freshening up in the bathroom and getting dressed. They sheepishly tried to avoid each other, suddenly self-conscious about the night before. They blamed it on the booze - that they were kissing on each other, and that Morrissey walked in and caught them by surprise. Morrissey watched the morning news on tv, pretending not to notice them, but he was inwardly amused at how child-like they both seemed. He went into the bathroom and shaved, looking about at how everything seemed now flavored and adorned by the essence of girl. Pink pajamas, last night's undies, tubes of lipstick, and wads of tissue tinted in the color of their lips. He splashed water on his face and slapped himself a couple of times thinking about how crazy life is. When he stepped out, the girls were sitting at the table by the window smoking cigarettes. He took note of their newly purchased attire. College school girls.
"Well girls, do you need daddy to take you to school now?"
"Can't we play hooky just this once?" Penny said, getting up and walking over to him. He took her hand and pulled her onto the bed.
"I guess maybe just this one time," he said, giving her a kiss. Penny sat up and looked at him.
"Did Mickey have any news about Walt?" she asked.
"Walt who?" Morrissey said.
"Did they catch him?"
"Nope," Morrissey replied.
"Crap," Penny said. "I was hoping his ass was in jail."
"Let's just say, Wally won't be going anywhere any time soon," Morrissey said with a smile.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean frankly, Wally doesn't have a leg to stand on."
"Come on, Cully," Penny said jumping on him. "Tell me." Morrissey laughed, fighting her off.
"Mick and I paid your ol' pal Wally a little visit."
"You went to Toledo?" Penny said. "Did you kill him?"
"Oh, come on Penny. You know what a soft-hearted guy I am. I just has a heart to heart talk with him.. .man to man, you know...and then...I broke both his legs."
"Hot damn!" Penny said, jumping up.
"Un-be-fucking-leivable..." Melody said quietly. Morrissey sat up.
"Wally boy is history, Penny. He knows next time I see him I'll put a bullet through his head."
"Hot damn! Hot damn!" Penny said again, jumping up and down. "Let's party!"
"We don't have time to party right now," he said. "Besides you two have been partying for two days now."
"No we haven't," Penny replied. "I've been teaching Melody self-defense. Haven't I Melody?" Melody nodded.
"Is that right?" Morrissey said, looking over at Melody.
"Yep, I'm a mean bitch now," Melody said. "Ask Penny."
"She is," Penny said. "Melody is now a certified mean bitch." Morrissey laughed and pretended to be pulling his hair out.
"I'm serious," Melody said, standing and reaching into her backpack. "Check this out." She pulled out a black Luger.
"Where in the hell did you get that?" Morrissey said, looking back and forth from Melody to Penny.
"I got one too. We decided we needed more fire power than the .38."
"Is the safety on, Melody?"
"Ok, put it away. Look," Morrissey said. "Where we're headed is going to require more than mean bitches with Lugers. We've got to think very carefully. We have to use our heads. Map this plan out very carefully."
"What plan?" Penny asked.
"The plan to pay Evelyn Kieriakas a little visit."
"Are you shitting me?" Melody said.
"Do I look like I'm shitting you?"
"Cully doesn't shit people," Penny explained. She looked over at Morrissey. "So what's the plan?" Penny asked.
"I'll get to that. First we need to go get some breakfast. Then we'll come back here and pack our bags. Somewhere between here and the Florida state line we are going to figure out how to bring Kierikas down without getting ourselves killed in the process."
THE BITTER TRUTH
Morrissey and the girls sat in a booth at the Chow House. Their plates were filled with assorted breakfast foods from the all-you-can-eat buffet. Morrissey leaned back and watched Melody and Penny sampling each other's breakfast.
"Here try this."
"Ooh, that was yummy! Take a bite of this."
"Ummmmmm...." They seemed oblivious of the fact that he was sitting there studying them, marveling at this thing called woman.
"Melody," he said. Melody looked up as though surprised he was there. "How many girls does Evelyn have?"
"You don't understand Cully. Evelyn isn't some kinda Madam of a fancy brothel. She obtains women, and sells them."
"Why don't they leave? Run away."
"To where? She takes their passports and locks them away. They have no money. No identity. They are trapped."
"How many women do you think she's sold?"
"I have no idea," Melody answered. "Dozens, maybe. When I first came to the states with her, there were four other girls living in her house. But, then one by one they disappeared and no one ever heard from them again. I know of two that showed up dead in the news. One was strangled in a hotel room. Another one was pulled out of the water by some guys in a charter boat that saw her body float by."
"Did you know those girls, Melody?" Penny asked. Melody nodded, her face falling into the sadness of the thought.
"I knew Joy really well. We were close. We shared a bedroom in Evelyn's house."
"Where did Evelyn find Joy?" Morrissey asked.
"Czechoslovakia," Melody answered. "Joy wasn't her real name. That's just what Evelyn decided to call her. Her real name was Anika. She was even younger than I was." A tear rolled slowly down Melody's cheek. She reached for the napkin on her lap. Penny scooted over in the booth and put her arm around her.
"Is your name really Melody?" Morrissey said quietly. Melody buried her face in the napkin and began to sob, shaking her head no. Penny pulled her into her arms.
"Tabine," Melody cried. "My name is Tabine." Penny caressed the back of Melody's head, her own eyes welling up. Morrissey stared over at her, his jaw tightening and grinding.
"Fuck!...FUCK!" he muttered through clenched teeth. Melody took several big faltering breaths, her face buried in Penny's hair. Penny held her tight.
"Tabine...Tabine..." she whispered.
"I'm ok," Tabine said, blowing her nose and wiping her face. She looked over at Morrissey. "I'll be ok." Morrissey reached across the table and took her hand.
"And you, Tabine?" Evelyn sold you to Bonaventure?"
"Not exactly," Tabine said, regaining her composure. "I was a gift. A bribe, you might say. I don't even know how it all went down. She slipped something in my drink that night. Next thing I know, I wake up in Vegas on the floor, with Bonaventure fucking me in the ass while his buddies filmed it."
"You know that stiletto we were practicing with the other night?" Penny said. "That's the blade I stuck in that asshole's back."
"Tabine smiled. "I wish I could have seen that."
"I buried that blade all the way to the hilt," Penny added.
"Did he scream?"
"Oh yeh. Like bloody murder." Tabine laughed.
"Did blood start spurting out like a fountain?"
"Not at first. Not until I yanked the blade out. Then it was like a geyser. Whoosh!" Penny made a grand gesture with her hands up into the air. Tabine clapped her hands together gleefully as though imagining it.
"Oh, Tabine! You've got to try this french toast!" Morrissey leaned back again watching them. Marveling. Two psychopathic college girls sharing their most intimate moments. It would make a good movie.
Morrissey went over to the pay phone at the back of the restaurant as the girls stood outside by the torpedo smoking cigarettes.
"Mickey? It's Cully. You ready for a little vacation?"
"Hell yeh," Mickey said. "What's the plan?"
"I was thinking I'd book you and the family on a Monday morning flight to St. Augustine. Would that work?"
"Sure," Mickey answered. "What's in St. Augustine?"
"Nothing but fun, Mick. Lots of nice beach for the kids to play on. You and me on the deep blue sea reeling in some big ones."
"Now you're talkin'" Mickey said. "And what about Kieriakas?"
"I'm going to take her out, Mick. We'll talk about it when I see you, ok? Look, I'll have the airlines call you with the flight information and plan to pick you all up at the airport in St. Augustine."
"I'm packing my bags already," Mickey replied.
Cully walked out and over to the girls. He had a picture in his mind. A picture of Evelyn Kieriakas. Face down. On the floor. In a pool of blood.
CHAPTER SIXINTO THE NIGHT
It was a long drive from Tuscaloosa to St. Augustine. An all day drive. Morrissey drove most of the way with the girls hanging out in the back seat. They were playing like little kids on a holiday. He let it go. They needed it. Tabine especially needed it. To be a little girl again and remember being happy. But there was a big storm on its way. He kept thinking about that. How to pull it off. How to keep everybody alive. Everybody except Evelyn. She had paid ten grand up front to get 'Melody' back with a promise of ten more upon delivery. He would have to up that ante to maybe thirty grand, and then double-cross her. There were a lot of unknowns. Evelyn was some kind of snake. Like that one that screwed up everything for Adam and Eve. What a fucked up situation that was. He glanced into the rear view mirror. In his mind, two little girls playing patsy with their hands. He pulled off the road to take a piss.
Morrissey walked back to the car, zipping up his pants. Penny had climbed behind the wheel.
"Get in the back, Jack," she said with a smile. They were about two hours from St. Augustine. The sun was going down. Penny turned the radio on pushing the buttons restlessly as she barreled down the highway which kept rising and falling. A jazzy number came up only to disappear as she rode through a valley. Then some station in New Orleans and a disc jockey talking to truckers about road conditions and the weather. Then just static. She glanced into the rear view mirror. Tabine was slumped against Cully.
"Put your arm around her, Cully," she thought to herself. And Cully put his arm around her. Penny smiled and drove on. She knew they were heading into something scary, but something that had to be done.
St. Augustine in the night was just another place.
"What do you want to do Cully?" she said into the rear view mirror. Tabine was fast asleep, her head on Morrissey's lap.
"Pull in somewhere Penny," he said. "We just need to crash." Penny drove on looking for a motel. Morrissey sat there looking down at Tabine. Petting her like a sleeping cat. He thought back about that day that changed everything. That day his wife and young daughter died. The punk he killed to avenge them. That's what started his renegade life of evening up the scores where lawfulness fell short. The guy was just a punk kid. He never stood a chance, really. Morrissey felt sick. He ran his fingers through Tabine's hair. He caressed her cheek. The shit was about to hit the fan. He did an inventory in his mind of his resources. It would all come down to guns and people and who would win, and how. He thought about Evelyn and how her mind was working. She knew she would have to pay out a lot of bucks to get Tabine back. And she knew it would get more complicated than that. And he knew he had to out-think her. He looked up at Penny pulling into a motel. The DelRay Inn. He looked down at Tabine. They were both tough. And they were both babies. And he knew that if he made the wrong move, he wouldn't be able to live with it.
NO REST FOR THE WEARY
They all slept together that night on a single bed. But it wasn't about sex. It was about solidarity. Being one in the face of something dark and menacing. Morrissey had a dream of faces parading past him. Pale faces as though lit by moonlight. Faces of dead people. People he had killed. He thought about giving them their lives back. Giving them another chance. Making the bullets fly backward and out of the bloody hole. Making the hole disappear as the bullets returned to the chamber of the gun in his hand. Throwing his gun into the river. He woke up sweating and breathing hard. Penny and Tabine were snuggled up against him. Sound asleep. Naked and vulnerable. He ran his hands idly over their skin, reliving that dream in his mind. There's no undoing a thing. They deserved to die. He stared off into the darkness of the room. He saw Evelyn laughing. He saw Anika's flailing arms as she sank into the sea. He saw Evelyn laughing. He saw some woman dead in some motel somewhere. And Evelyn laughing. He saw Tabine being raped into nightmarish consciousness. Evelyn laughing. He saw Bonaventure forcing Penny to the floor and heard her screaming. He sat up slowly and eased out from between the sleeping girls. He walked into the bathroom and threw up. He splashed his face with water at the sink and looked into the mirror at Evelyn materializing in the doorway behind him, laughing and then fading back into nothing.
Cully went down to the motel lobby as the girls got dressed that next morning. He grabbed a complimentary coffee and looked over the stacks of brochures at the front desk. Marineland, Gatorland, Midgetville, Mystery Fun House, Ringling Brothers Circus Museum. He looked up at the clerk behind the desk.
"How can I get tickets to some of these places?" he asked.
"I can arrange that for you, if I know the number in your party," the clerk replied. Cully picked out several attractions.
"I'd like tickets for one adult, and two kids to these three," he said, fanning the brochures out across the counter.
"I'll have those ready for you this afternoon," the clerk smiled. "Would you like me to put them on your room tab?"
"Great," Morrissey replied, pocketing the brochures. The girls came bouncing down the stairs and went over to the complimentary breakfast table. They grabbed a couple of cheese Danishes and coffee and walked over to where Cully was sitting in the lobby by the big aquarium.
"So what's the plan, Stan?" Penny said, as they sat down opposite him on the small turquoise vinyl couch.
"Well," Cully said, "Mickey and Laurie and the kids will get in this afternoon. I'd like for you two to go pick them up at the airport."
"What are you going to do?" Penny asked.
"I'm going to find us a beach house so we can all kick back for a couple of days. So you girls probably need to go pick yourselves up some fun-in-the-sun attire this morning." Penny and Tabine smiled at each other. Cully pulled the keys to the torpedo out and tossed them to Penny. Then he fished for his wallet.
SETTING THE STAGE
Cully walked the girls out to the car.
"The plane gets in at 2:30. So, bring everybody back here. Wait for me, if I'm not already back." Penny threw Cully a kiss as they drove away. Tabine followed suit with a happy wave.
At the front desk, Morrissey talked to the clerk about beach houses, and boat rentals. Just two blocks down and one block over was a row of beach houses, and the marina was an easy walk from there. He strolled down the sidewalk smoking a cigarette. The morning air felt good. Glancing between the buildings as he walked along he could see the ocean and the surf rolling in. A couple of surfers. A tanker way out on the horizon. A family with kids out picking up shells.
There was one beach house that was vacant. A bit run down, but still with a cozy feeling to it. It had three bedrooms and a deck looking out to the water. He booked it for a week. He took his shoes off and walked the beach at the water's edge, making his way to the marina. A group of grey-haired men were standing around a charter fishing place, getting ready to be taken out on the water. He walked over and waited to talk to the man taking their money.
"I'm looking for a boat I can take out myself. Take the family on a little cruise along the intercoastal." The man pointed on down the boardwalk.
"See where that blue shack is? The surfboard shop?" Morrissey nodded. "It's the next place after that, you can't miss it."
The woman smiled as he approached and told her what he was looking for.
"I've got three available right now," She said. "How many people do you need to accommodate?"
"Five adults, two kids."
"Come with me, I'll show you one that would be just about right for you." They walked along the pier. She pointed to a small yacht. "That's a 39 foot Tiara. Really easy to handle, too."
"How easy?" Morrisey said.
"If you can open a bottle of cola, you handle it," she smiled. "Climb aboard and look around." Morrissey stepped across to the boat, the woman on his heels. "It's got a nice sized observation deck, a salon/lounge that converts to sleep six. If two are kids, I think it would work for you."
Can you outfit it for some deep sea fishing?" Morrissey asked.
"Absolutely. It comes with two Oceanmaster offshore anglers strong enough to bring in a record-breaking yellowfin tuna, should you be so lucky."
"It's perfect," Morrissey said. "I'll take it."
"By the day, or by the week?"
"At least a week," Morrissey replied.
"I'll put you down for a week, if you want more time with it, we can work it out later."
"Perfect," Morrissey repeated.
He walked out to the main drag and caught a cab.
"I need to get to a liquor store near here," he said. He kept the cabbie waiting as he grabbed several bottles of booze, tonic water, and a couple of six packs of soft drinks. "22 Sunrise Drive," he said. He paid the cabbie and threw in a nice tip, then carried his bags into the beach house. He dumped the drinks into the fridge and walked back to the motel. He looked at his watch. Time enough to take a little nap before the gang arrives. He kicked off his shoes and sprawled out on the bed. But, there was no way he could sleep. He stepped out onto the balcony and sat down staring out at the sea. A plan was unfolding in his mind like a badly edited movie. He calls Evelyn...they plan to meet somewhere...she brings the money...Tabine is on the boat...Evelyn sees her waving...she goes toward the boat...Morrissey's head began to nod and his head slumped slowly down. He woke up at 2:45. He walked back into the room, sat on the bed, and put on his shoes.
Morrissey walked down to the lobby. He looked outside. There they all were. Standing by the torpedo, pulling bags out of the trunk. He felt a strange excitement as he stepped out. Micky, Laurie, and the kids had been like his family for quite a few years now. Little Peggy came running toward him.
"Uncle Cully!" He bent to swoop her up into his arms. He spun her around in a circle.
"Oh Peggy! My Peggy Sue..ooh..ooh..ooh.." he sang. She hugged his neck laughing as he carried her to the car. "How old are you now, baby?"
"I'm not a baby," she protested. "I'm nine!" He held her out at arm's length and swung her around in the air again.
"Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty Peggy Sue.." He set her down on the ground and she took a few dizzy steps and fell onto her butt. "Oh come here, you big girl, you!" he said, bending to scoop her up again. He pretended to bite her cheek. "Aaarrrr...aaaarrrhh..! He set her back down as he stepped into the middle of everybody else. "Laurie!" he said, hugging her. "Did you have a good flight sweetie?" She nodded and flashed a big smile. "Cullin!" Morrissey said, giving the gangly eleven year old boy a manly handshake and then grabbing him around the neck and rubbing his knuckles into his blonde hair. "Knuckle sandwich...knuckle sandwich!" He pushed the boy back and shook him by the shoulders. "Look at you! You're looking more and more like me every day!" He turned to Mickey and they hugged with manly firm pats on each other's backs. "You're here, man! We're goin' fishing tomorrow morning!"
"Hell, yeh," Mickey said.
"Ok, listen up. Put the bags back in the trunk. I got us a place," Cully said, grabbing Penny and pulling her to him. He kissed her. "Thanks, baby." Everyone began piling back into the torpedo. Morrissey put his arms around Tabine. "You doing ok, baby?" She nodded enthusiastically.
"The kids are hilarious," she said. He could tell she was happy to have some sense of family too. He gave her a quick kiss. "Let's go." For a minute or so, it was a juggling act of how to fit seven people into a Studebaker. Young Cullin opted to sit atop the folded down canvas of the convertible top above the back seat. Little Peggy sat on Morrissey's lap holding on to the steering wheel, pretending she was driving. It was only a few blocks to the beach house, but those few minutes seemed overwhelmingly wonderful to Morrissey. Two things flashed through his mind. This precious cargo, and Evelyn dead.
It took a few hours for things to settle down at the beach house. The kids ran off to the water and made a mess of themselves. Laurie, seeing nothing but drinks in the fridge commandeered the torpedo and took off with Penny to find food. Morrissey and Mickey kicked back with drinks on the deck. Morrissey told Mickey all about the boat he had booked. They would go fishing in the morning. They clinked their glasses several times talking about all that.
"Damn its good to be out of Terre Haute isn't it?" Mickey said, as he refilled his glass from the bottle on the table.
"Hell yes," Morrissey answered raising his glass. He stood and looked at Tabine
at the railing, her eyes on the kids running in and out of the surf. The sun was going down. The sea was turning red into black. Morrissey walked over to her. He put his arm around her.
"Are you all right,baby?" he said, pulling her toward him.
"Almost," she said softly.
"Let's dance," he said. They swayed back and forth. There was no music.
"I need you to be strong right now," he whispered.
"Yes,"she said feebly, nuzzling her face under Cully's chin.
"We're going to take Evelyn down," Cully whispered, his face in Tabine's hair. "Can you help me do that?"
"Yes," she whispered.
"Are you sure?" he whispered.
"Yes," she whispered back, her lips moist against his neck.
A DAY ON THE WATER.
Cully and Mickey turned the boat out to sea. Penny came along. Cully showed her how to work the wheel and the joystick.
"You look so fucking hot," Cully said, arms around her belly as he stood behind her, telling her what to do.
"Get the fuck out of there," Penny said, as his hand slid down into her bikini bottom.
"Holy shit!" Mickey shouted. "I've got one." Cully rushed to his side as Mickey pulled on the rod, spinning the reel tight, then letting it back out.
"She's a real mother fucker, Cully!" Cully held on to Mickey as he fought.
"Oh yeh, bring it in!"
Penny kept steady on the wheel looking over her shoulder.
"Damn it Cully," she muttered as she reached down to touch herself.
They grilled out that night. Sitting in a circle on the sand, pulling pieces of tuna off the spit. Morrissey stood and walked up to the beach house. He stood on the deck looking out on everyone gathered around the fire. He smiled watching Penny and Tabine dancing together, and picked up the phone and dialed.
"Evelyn?" he said. She laughed, just as in his dreams. "I need 30 grand for Melody."
"That's no problem," she answered. "Just say when and where."
"Day after tomorrow," Morrisey answered. "I've got a boat. I'll bring her down to Merrick Island. Do you know where that is?"
"Yes, it's north of me a couple of hours. Why there? Why don't you come on down to Palm Beach, we'll have dinner. It would be nice. I miss Melody so much."
"I'm sure you do. She's hot property, isn't she?"
"Cully, I love Melody. How can you talk so crudely?"
"Oh, cut the bullshit, Evelyn. I know you want her dead. So she can't squeal on you"
"Cully, how could you say such a thing?" Evelyn muttered in a voice of disgust.
"Look Evelyn, it doesn't matter to me what you do with her. She's just some piece of shit girl. I want the money."
"That's not a problem," Evelyn said. "I'll have it for you."
"I'll call you tomorrow," Morrissey said as he hung up the phone.
CALM BEFORE THE STORM
The next day was spent mostly lounging about the beach house or sunning on the sand.
Cully and Mickey leaned on the railing of the deck looking down at Peggy and Cullin splashing around in the surf. Laurie with a magazine and a Margarita, lounged beneath an umbrella watching the kids. Penny and Tabine sat on a blanket in their bikinis, rubbing each other down with lotion. Mickey nudged Cully as Penny and Tabine kissed, and then laid down in the sun.
"That's hot," Mickey murmured.
"Yeh, too hot," Cully replied.
"What's the matter?" Mickey chuckled. "You getting old, or something?"
"In more ways than one, Mick. In more ways than one." He took a draw on his beer.
"Look Mick. Tomorrow we need to meet up with Evelyn, south of here at Merrick Island. We'll take the boat. Laurie would be a nervous wreck if she knew what we were up to." Mickey agreed. "So' Morrissey said, "I got Laurie and the kids some tickets to Marineland, Gatorland, and The Mystery Fun House. She can take the torpedo tomorrow and have a lot of fun. Can you handle lying to her, Mick?"
"In this case, yeh," Mickey said.
"We'll tell her we're going fishing, and Tabine and Penny want the day to go shopping. Think that would work?" Mickey nodded.
"She'll be pissed later, but I can handle it."
"I'm going to call Evelyn and tighten up the plan for tomorrow. We'll need most of the morning to make it down the intercoastal to the island. I'll tell her 3pm is the rendezvous time. I've got some big bucks for you, Mick. But, like I said, I don't want you getting into the action unless some bad shit starts going down."
"Well look," Mickey said. There's no way I'm going to just stand around if Evelyn gets the upper hand on you." Morrissey patted him on the back.
"I know that, but she's not going to be that lucky, Mick."
That night Laurie and Mickey played some card games with the kids at the kitchen table. Morrissey walked out on the deck where Penny and Tabine sat talking.
"Wow, look at that fucking moon," he exclaimed.
"I like the way you say 'fucking moon'" Penny giggled. Morrissey shook his finger at her.
"You are one naughty little girl!" he said.
"You know you like it," Penny teased. He sat down with them.
"We've got some shit to deal with tomorrow," he said. He looked over at Tabine.
"I'm going to kill Evelyn, Tabine," he said flatly.
"Good," Tabine answered.
"Do you want a chance to give her a piece of your mind, or spit in her face?"
"Definitely," Tabine replied. He looked back and forth at them and lowered his voice.
"Penny and I are going to meet Evelyn in the parking lot at the island marina and get the money. She won't want hand it over unless she knows I've got you, Tabine. The boat will be docked along the pier. I want you to be on it. On the observation deck and clearly visible. We'll lead Evelyn to a point where she can see you. We'll get the money from her and let her go over to the boat to get you. Wave, so she thinks its all cool. Then go on into the cabin. Mickey will be hiding in the bathroom listening to anything that goes down. If he needs to, he'll step out and plug her then and there. But try to keep her talking a few minutes while Penny and I come on board. We'll restrain her and then we'll head out to sea a few miles and dump her."
"I can't wait to watch her drown," Tabine said coldly. She stood up. "I'm going to go back to the bedroom and clean my Luger," she said.
"Most likely you won't need it Tabine, but better safe than sorry," Morrissey said. He glanced over to Penny. "Are you ready for this?" Penny nodded. "Are you scared?" he asked.
"A little. I don't want to lose you, Cully."
"I don't want to lose you either sweetheart," he said. "And I don't want to lose Tabine, or Mickey either. I don't want to lose anybody. Except Evelyn. We're going to have to play this really tight. Things might not go the way we planned. We have to be ready for anything."
"We'll pull it off," Penny said.
"Yes. We will. And then, we're going to start really living, Penny. You and me. I'm tired of this craziness. I used to not care whether one day someone would take me out. I didn't have a whole lot to lose. But now, I do." Penny got up and sat down on Cully's lap.
"I love you, Cully," she said.
"I love you too," he replied, cupping her face and brushing her hair back. They kissed. "I'm going for a walk," he said.
"Do you want me to go with you?"
"No sweetheart, I just want to wind down a little."
Cully walked the beach down to the marina and strolled out along the boardwalk. He stopped at a pay phone and dialed Kieriakas collect.
"Yes, I'll accept the charges," he heard her say. "Cully?"
"Do you have the money?" he said.
"I thought you said thirty thousand," she answered.
"You know how it is these days, Evelyn. Everything just keeps getting more and more epensive. Especially where human flesh is concerned."
"You have such a nasty way of putting things, Cully," she muttered.
"Funny coming from you, Evelyn."
"Ok, I'll have it," she said.
"Forty thousand," he repeated.
"Yes, for Christ's sake," Evelyn said in a louder voice. "How do I even know you have Melody?"
"I won't take your money until you see her. She'll be alone. I get the money. You get the girl. Penny and I will be waiting for you in the marina parking lot on the island at three in the afternoon. You show us the money. We'll show you the girl.
You give us the money, then you can do whatever you want with her."
"I'll be there," Evelyn said.
"Alone," Morrissey said.
"Yes. Alone." He hung up the phone and took a deep breath.
A SURPRISE FOR THE KIDS
Morrissey walked back into the beach house and sat down at the table.
"I got a little surprise for you guys," he said to Cullin and Peggy.
"What, Uncle Cully," Peggy said, looking up at him. He smiled and pretended to grab her nose between his fingers.
"Well," he said, reaching into his pocket. He laid the brochure for Marineland on the table.
"Wow!" Cullin said. "Is that where the dolphins are?" Morrissey nodded.
"Like Flipper?" Peggy said.
"Yep. In fact I think Flipper lives there when he's not making movies." He reached into his pocket again. "Almost forgot this," he said laying down a brochure for Gatorland.
"Oh my God!" Cullin said excitedly.
"Oh, and this." He laid down the brochure for Mystery Fun House. The kids started jumping up and down. Peggy was grabbing his face and kissing his cheek with her little slobbery mouth.
"Thank you, Uncle Cully...um...um...um." Morrissey pushed an envelope full of tickets to Laurie.
"Take the torpedo Laurie. Have a blast. Mick and I are going to go fishing in the morning."
Laurie shook her head and laughed.
Oh Cully, you shouldn't have done that. You're too much, really."
"Well, I did, and the tickets are not refundable so go have fun, Laurie."
"Uncle Cully," Cullin said. "Can I go fishing with you guys sometime?"
"Absolutely! But tomorrow you go have fun. You'll love the dolphin show. Besides I want you to keep an eye on your little sister. Don't let her out of your sight. Will you do that?" Cullin nodded. Cully hugged him and patted his back. "That's my man! And day after tomorrow, I'm going to take you fishing. And besides, you need to start learning how to handle a boat."
"You're the coolest, Uncle Cully." Morrissey laughed and looked over at Mickey.
"Did you hear that? I'm the coolest."
"Hey," Mickey replied. "If Cullin thinks you are cool, then there's no doubt about it.
"What about Penny and Tabine?" Laurie asked. "They'll be stuck here all day."
"Oh, you know those gals, they'd like nothing better than to lie around and be lazy all day and pose for the boys down on the beach."
"Hey," Penny said, walking in from the deck. "I heard that!"
"You know its true," Cully chuckled.
"You know you like it," Penny said, walking off to the bedroom.
Morrissey and Mickey went out on the deck for a nightcap as Laurie hustled the kids off to bed. They went over the plan again....and then again. Penny and Tabine were sound asleep when Morrissey walked in. He looked down at them as he undressed.
"Cully?" Penny said, looking up at him with sleepy eyes.
"Yeh," Morrissey said, bending down to kiss her.
"Come to bed, baby," she said, patting the space between her and Tabine with her hand. He slipped in between them and wrapped his arms around Penny.
"Cully?" Penny whispered as he kissed her neck.
"What, angel?" he said.
"Hold Tabine, Cully."
"Just do it, Cully. Hold her."
Cully turned and put his arm around Tabine pulling her to him. She turned sleepily to him, her face nuzzling under his chin. He ran his fingers through her silky hair. Penny caressed his shoulder, and snuggled against him. He could feel her warm breath on the back of his neck. He pressed his face into Tabine's fragrant hair. They woke the next morning still clinging to one another, the rising sun sending red streaks across the dark and quiet sea. The slow and rhythmic sloshing of the surf seemed to get louder as the sun climbed above the horizon turning from red to orange. Crying birds swooped back and forth low to the water.
THE DAY THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
After breakfast out on the deck, the kids were antsy to get going. Everybody walked out toward the torpedo to see them off. Morrissey carried Peggy.
"I want you to tell me all about it when you get back ok, baby?" he said.
Peggy pouted and grabbed his face with both hands as though to make sure she had his full attention.
Uncle Cully, I told you already I am not a little baby!" Morrissey laughed.
"Oh, that's right. I forgot. You're a big baby now!"
"I'm not a big baby! I'm almost ten!" He held her tight with one arm and tickled her, laughing as she shrieked and squirmed in his arms. Mickey gave Laurie a kiss as she climbed into the car. The kids waved excitedly from the back seat as they drove away.
"Ok," Morrissey said, turning to look at the others. "Everybody got their gear?" The foursome walked the beach over to the marina and the boat. "Its going to take us about four hours to get down to Merrick's Island," Morrissey said. "That will get us there plenty early. So, lets all just relax and cruise along and enjoy the beautiful day."
Penny and Tabine peeled down to their bikinis and sat out on the canvas chairs on the deck in front of the cabin as Morrissey slowly maneuvered the boat out away from the marina. He unfolded a navigational map of the intercoastal waterway and laid it out next to him. MIckey stood next to him as he steered through a succession of buoys. He looked out the window.
"Nice view, eh?" Mickey chuckled, looking at the girls slathering each other down with lotion.
"Its the good life, isn't Mickey? Are you carrying right now?"
"Yeh, its under my jacket right here." Morrissey pointed to a gym bag on the floor. "Get that .38 out of there and stash it in the bathroom. Maybe in the closet under the towels. Just a spare n case it needed."
Mickey disappeared and returned.
"What else you need, Cully?"
"I think there's still some bait in the fridge, why don't you go out on the back there and throw out a line. See if you catch us a big fat tuna. Better yet, see if the girls want a little deep sea fishing lesson."
"Now you're talking," Mickey replied.
"Hey,"Morrissey said over his shoulder. "Don't you be pinching on those little bottoms. Remember you're married."
"I can look can't I?" Mickey said.
"Hell yeh," Morrissey chuckled. "Get yourself an eyeful."
He stared straight ahead. The waterway was opening up now. The sea was a shimmering silver. He cranked the front window opened and breathed the salty air. He pictured Evelyn getting ready for the day. Driving north from Palm Beach. Knowing her, she was probably scheming to get Melody and get the money back too. She'd be outnumbered. But maybe she's got someone with her. Laying low and out of sight in the back seat. Maybe even in the trunk. She could have a couple of punks following her in another car. Armed to the eyeteeth. He compulsively reached for the gun in his shoulder holster beneath his jacket. He could hear the girls laughing behind him on the rear deck. Getting lessons from Mickey. He glanced back over his shoulder looking at Tabine in the chair, rod in hand. Mickey behind her, bent down his arms reaching around to show her how to handle the line. How to jerk the pole. Set the hook. Let it out. Reel it in. He's surely getting a nice look at those sweet little tits of Tabine's. He'd probably like to fuck her, who wouldn't? He wondered if Tabine would like to get laid. He thought about setting it up. Then he felt like such a rat for imagining it. He couldn't let Mickey get away with that. He couldn't betray sweet Laurie like that. He glanced west to a crowded beach and looked down at his map. That's got to be Daytona Beach. He thought about some little bunny getting fucked in a motel room by a college hunk. He thought about how a sense of danger in the air can give a man a hard-on. He remembered that marching through France. Wanting one last fuck because you could die any minute.
"We got one! We got one!" Penny shouted excitedly, running into the cabin. She fumbled in her bag for her camera. Morrissey locked the wheel and turned around. There was Mickey standing next to Tabine on the back deck. They were holding a big yellowfin. Penny was holding the camera. Penny was waving with one hand.
"Lean your heads together." Click. "Now lower the fish a little." Click.
"Look at each other. Big smile" Click. "Now kiss Mickey, Tabine." Click.
"Oh shit," Morrissey thought to himself.
"Hey Mick!" he shouted. "Gut that sucker, and we'll pop it in the broiler. Penny come here,' he motioned to her. "Listen, don't set Mickey up like that. He can't handle it."
"We were just having fun," Penny said.
"Tell that to Laurie."
"You're right, Cully. I wasn't thinking."
"Well, start thinking." Penny's face fell.
"I'm sorry." He pulled on Penny's arm.
"Come here," he said in a softer voice. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her, his hands sliding down to feel her soft bottom.
She buried her face in his chest.
"I'm scared Cully," she said. He put his hand beneath her chin and coaxed her face up.
"Look at me. Don't say you're scared. Say, we're going to pull this shit off."
"We're going to pull this shit off," she said.
"Say, we're invincible, and nothing can stop us."
"We're invincible. Nothing can stop us."
"That's right," Cully said with a smile. "Now say, kiss me."
"Kiss me." He moved her slowly backward to the bathroom door. He closed it behind them. They were in there for about ten minutes.
BEER AND FISH
They dropped anchor about an hour short of Merrick Island. They sat out on the front deck in a circle, pulling chunks of blackened tuna off a platter.
"This is so fucking good," Tabine laughed. Morrissey looked over at her. She had changed a lot since they picked her up off that motel room floor back in Alabama. A scared child then. A scarred child. But she's got time to pull out and away from that shit and leave it behind. She has time yet to have a life. In his mind, it cleared away any nagging doubts about laying Evelyn to rest. He looked down at his watch. He stood up and looked at the others.
"Ok, its now or never. We're going to cruise on in to Merrick Island. We've got to get very focused now." He felt like he was directing a movie. "We'll tie the boat up at a pier. Penny and I will go down to wait for Evelyn. Tabine you'll be standing out here on the deck. Mickey, you're in the bathroom cocked and loaded. Everybody straight on that?"
"Here's to family," Mickey said, raising his beer.
"That's right, Mick," Morrissey said. He bent to clink his bottle to Mick's. The girls raised theirs.
"To family!" It got quiet after that. Mickey hauled the anchor up. Morrissey fired the engine. The girls double-checked their guns.
It was about two in the afternoon when Morrissey spotted the island dead ahead. He handed a pair of binoculars to Mickey.
"Tell me what you see, Mick."
"What are we looking for?" Mickey said as he looked through the binoculars toward the island.
"Anything and everything," Morrissey answered. "Just start telling me about everything you see."
"Ok," Mickey said, focusing the lenses. "There's a trawler. Looks like its on its way out for a run....a few people wandering the beach. A couple of surfers on the north end....I think I can make out the marina...its a little further south." Morrissey cut the wheel a bit.
"Let's just stay out here a ways, I'll take us on down that way."
"I can see the marina....about a dozen boats...smaller than ours, I think," Mickey said.
"Can you see the parking lot around the marina anywhere?"
"Not yet....Wait...now I see it," Mickey said. Morrissey pulled the throttle back bringing the boat to a crawl.
"Let me take a look, Mick," he said reaching for the binoculars. "Hold the wheel steady." He walked out onto the front deck and studied the parking lot. Half a dozen cars. A guy with his trunk open. He was pulling out several red life jackets. He studied the dock, looking for a place to pull the boat in. Penny and Tabine came up beside him. "Are you ready ladies?" he said, still scanning the situation.
Penny had changed into jeans and a jacket. Tabine had a towel around her waist. Another hung from her neck.
"I'm scared," Tabine said.
"You'd be crazy if you weren't sweetheart," Morrissey replied, still holding the binoculars to his eyes. He lowered the glasses and smiled at Tabine. He put his arm around her. "You can't let fear fuck with you, baby. Fear can be your friend. It can make your heart beat faster. Make your veins swell a bit with oxygen and adrenaline. Fear is like a wild horse. If you hold onto the reins real tight though, it can take you places." Penny took the binoculars and looked over to the marina.
"There's a Mercedes pulling in," she said.
"Keep your eye on it, Penny," he said. He took Tabine's hand and pulled it up over his chest.
"Feel that, Tabine? Feel the way my heart is beating?" She nodded up at him. "That's the wild horse in me." He reached up and cupped her face. "You can do this. You're a mean bitch, remember?" She nodded. "Say it," Cully said.
"I'm a fucking mean bitch," Tabine said.
"And its Evelyn's time to suffer now," Morrissey said. His fingers caressing her cheeks. "Say it."
"It's Evelyn's time to suffer."
"Thata girl," Morrissey said, bending his head down to kiss her lips.
"It's a woman," Penny said. "She's getting out....she set a briefcase on the hood...she's lighting a cigarette....she's leaning against the side of the car. She lowered the binoculars. "Its her Cully." Morrissey nodded.
"Anybody else in the car?"
"I don't think so," Penny said, raising the glasses to her eyes again.
"Ok," Morrissey said. "Let's get off the deck."
"Ok, Mickey," he said, taking the wheel. "It's showtime." He revved the motor and cut the wheel. They cruised slowly up toward the island. He spotted an empty bay at the end of one of the piers.
"Penny, keep your eyes on Evelyn." Penny squinted into the binoculars through the cabin window. "Tell me any move she makes." Morrissey eased the boat up alongside the pier. "What's she doing Penny?"
"She's still standing there. She keeps putting her hand in her coat pocket."
"Figures she'd be carrying," Morrissey muttered. "Is she looking this way?"
"Mick, go tie us off real quick." Morrissey cut the motor. Mickey stepped back into the cabin. 'Ready, Penny?" Penny nodded. He looked at Tabine. "Ready?"
"Yeh, let's get this over with."
"Mickey, just lay low, buddy. Let Evelyn come aboard. Be ready to move if it sounds like she's pulling some kind of shit on Tabine. Tabine, watch Penny and I as we walk down the pier. When we get near the building, go ahead and stroll out onto the deck. Watch for Evelyn coming your way. You know what to do, right?"
"Wait for her in the cabin," Tabine said. Morrissey nodded.
"We're wild horses, right?"
"Yeh," Tabine replied. "I'm a mean bitch on a wild horse."
"You got it, baby," Morrissey said. "Come on, Penny. Let's do some business."
Morrissey and Penny rounded the corner of the marina office and walked toward the parking lot. Evelyn looked up and saw them. She picked up the briefcase and came toward them. She smiled as they drew close.
"Penny, darling. You look lovely," she said. Her face went flat as she looked at Morrissey. "Where is she?"
"Where's the money?" Morrissey said.
"What do you think I've got in this case, my homework?"
"Open it up. Let's see it."
"You're not a very trusting person, are you Cully?" she said, unsnapping the clasp at the top of the briefcase.
"I wouldn't exactly call you trustworthy, Evelyn," Morrissey muttered. Evelyn opened the case. Morrissey looked down into it.
"Good," he said. She closed it up.
"So, where is Melody?"
"Come on, I'll show you," Morrissey said.
"No funny business," Evelyn said.
"Believe it or not, I'm a man of my word." He stopped at the side of the building, and pointed down the pier. "Down at the end, see her?" Evelyn looked and smiled. Tabine was standing against the railing of the deck, waving. "She's all yours," Morrissey said, reaching for the case. Evelyn released it and began walking quickly down the pier. There was a sudden loud squealing of tires from behind them. Morrissey spun around in time to see flashes of fire coming from the passenger side of a dark sedan. He pushed Penny down just as he felt a hard punch in his right shoulder. He tried to reach for his gun but his arm felt numb. Penny, on her stomach, pulled her luger out and aimed. She fired several rounds shattering the windshield. The car careened wildly and smashed into the side of Evelyn's Mercedes. A man stumbled out of the passenger side, firing toward them. "It's Guadamole," Morrissey said. He fumbled awkwardly for his gun with his left hand. Penny fired off two rounds and the thug dropped to his knees. Morrissey took aim. A single shot to the head, and the thug went flying backward and tumbled onto the asphalt. Penny jumped up, grabbing Cully. He looked down the pier. Evelyn was running toward the boat. "Come on," he said to Penny, clutching his bloody shoulder.
Evelyn stepped aboard the boat walking cautiously toward the cabin door. She reached into her pocket and drew out a revolver. "Melody?" she called.
"I'm here, Evelyn," Tabine answered from inside the cabin. Evelyn peered cautiously into the cabin. Tabine was standing by the captain's wheel, smiling.
"Melody darling," Evelyn said, walking toward her. In the bathroom Mickey listened, gun in hand. Tabine glanced out the side window of the cabin. She could see Penny and Morrissey running down the pier toward the boat.
"I've missed you, Evelyn," she said. Evelyn reached and caressed Tabine's cheek with her hand.
"You're prettier than ever," Evelyn said. She took Tabine's hand. "Come on sweetheart, let's go home." The bathroom door pushed slowly open. Evelyn heard it, spun around and fired. The shot splintered the door, and Mickey fell to the floor. Morrissey and Penny boarded the boat. Evelyn suddenly gasped looking down.
"Melody?" she said, looking at the knife in her stomach.
"That's for Anika," Tabine said. She jerked up suddenly on the stiletto's handle sending the blade up into Evelyn's gut. "And this is for my parents," she muttered. The gun fell from Evelyn's hand as blood began to spill out onto the floor. Morrissey and Penny appeared at the door, guns drawn. "And this," Tabine said, "is from me." She twisted the blade around inside Evelyn, pushing it up as far inside her as she could get it. Evelyn fell to the floor and onto her back. She looked up with wild eyes. .
"Melody?" she gasped, with a trickle of blood spilling from her mouth.
"I'm afraid you're mistaken," Tabine said, bending to the pull the blade out. "My name is Tabine." Morrissey stepped in and grabbed Mickey up into his arms. "I'm ok," Mickey groaned, clutching his side. Tabine looked up at Penny. "It just like you said," Tabine murmured, looking down at Evelyn and the blood spurting out of her stomach. "A fountain." She dropped the knife to the floor and fainted.
TWO DAYS LATER
Morrissey lay on the hammock out on the deck of the beach house. His right shoulder was heavily bandaged and his arm was in a sling. They had rented the place for another week. He smiled as he looked over at Penny sitting on the glider with little Peggy. They were coloring together in Peggy's 'Mystery Fun House' coloring book. There was a lot of happy chatter and giggling between the two of them.
They had split Evelyn's money four ways. And they decided to keep the boat another week too. He looked over at it anchored a little ways off shore. He'd have to figure out in a day or two how to patch that bullet hole in the bathroom door. As for how to explain the missing sink. That it was out there somewhere between Merrick Island and St' Augustine at the bottom of the sea would be hard to explain. Especially since it was tied to a corpse.
He shielded his eyes from the sun and looked out to the boat. He could see Laurie sitting out on the front deck looking back at him through the binoculars. She had gotten over being pissed at Mickey for getting himself shot. In fact, she was even gracious enough to help Penny and Tabine mop up all the blood in the cabin. Laurie waved. He waved back. Tabine waved too, and then dove off into the water and began swimming to shore. Mickey was at the back of the boat with Cullin. It was easy to spot Mickey with the wide cumberbun of white gauze wrapped around his gut. Young Cullin was seated holding the deep sea angler in his hands. Happy days were here again.
Little Peggy jumped up and trotted over to Cully.
"What sweetheart?" he said reaching out with his good arm to pull her close.
"Mystery Fun House was my favorite thing," she said.
"Yeh? Why's that?"
"Well, there was this magician there and..."
"Did he have a magic wand?"
"Did he have a cape?"
"Yes. But guess what?"
"He pulled a baby bunny out of my ear!" Cully pulled her by the back of her neck.
"Come here. Let me see if there's another one in there." She pulled away.
"No, Uncle Cully."
"I just want to see if there's another baby bunny in there."
"She leaned forward and whispered in his ear."
"There is another one. But, he's sleeping."
Tabine walked out onto the deck dripping wet, pushing her plastered pale blonde hair back.
"I'm freezing!" she said, rubbing her arms and shivering.
"Come here," Cully said, patting the hammock next to him. She climbed on and he pulled her to him and rubbed her arm. She laid her face on his chest.
"How did I get so lucky?" Tabine said softly. Cully ran his hand over her wet hair.
"I don't know, Tabine," Cully mused. "Maybe somewhere back there in your youth or childhood you musta done something good."
Penny walked over and smiled down at them. She bent to Cully and kissed him.
"You know what I want?"
"What do you want, angel?"
"We've already got a baby," he said, squeezing Tabine. Tabine jabbed him firmly in the ribs with her finger.
"Ow! Damn it! Such a mean baby!" Little Peggy stood there watching, her hands to her mouth giggling.
"Uncle Cully, you're silly!" she said.
"Oh yeh?" Cully answered. 'Well you're ridiculous!" he said, sticking his tongue out at her.
"No, Uncle Cully, You're ridiculous!" Peggy blurted back.
"I agree with Peggy," Penny said.
"So do I," murmured Tabine.
Note: This first draft of Nothing Comes From Nothing is copyrighted by Dan Smith, January 23, 2012. All rights reserved.