The taxi dropped them off at Calhoun and Main and Lungsee draped his apish frame in through the passenger window to compliment the shabby cabbie, a maddeningly unintelligible artiste, on a job well done, and to triple check that the French word for toilet was in fact toilet.
Emile looked towards The Arcade Restaurant, noticed its complete lack of life, and felt it both appropriate and odd that Lungsee would choose this place. But he knew the restaurant and he knew the bulk of its patrons were poor black males fresh out of the city jail. The area was solemn and depleted, but it had a grand history. Emile thought this about people in general. And life in particular. America. A grand promise of dignity and relevance at birth, only to be shed gradually like stinky socks and finally shucked aside entirely by the painfully gathered wisdom and suspicions of conspicuous consumerism and TV. However, concerning Lungsee, Emile now realized that his theory was wrong. Backwards. Lungsee was the inverse. He’s where our dignity went.
Emile knew well that Lungsee’s masterful operation of unloading the toilet to Grover put him back in power, in the driver’s seat of their friendship. Lungsee knew how it would play. And he was right. Lungsee knew a mental coin toss was all between Emile’s letting Grover in and not. And he flipped it and won. But pity and loyalty had stacked the toss. How did he account for that? Quantify that? Since Emile was on top then, he felt the the magnanimity, the emotional elbow room, to submit. Take the high road. Pity a bit, perchance. Yeah. Lungsee knew what he was doing. And he also knew what he was doing by not yet taking his share of the commode money. The son of a bitch is a maestro, Emile thought, and some little dude in Osaka will be drinking warm Saki from a four-foot bamboo straw out of the dead King’s toilet by next Thursday.
Lungsee appeared and said of the cabbie, His mother was a French Jew and his father was Gestapo. Jeez. I think there’s a special name for people like that. Said he goes to the dog track every day. Lungsee walked into the restaurant.
The restaurant had some life. A few single men hunched over and attended their food at the long Formica counter, a waitress who looked perturbed and a large fat man sitting on a bar stool at the register right at the door. He had a pencil mustache and he sweated. He was surrounded by toothpicks, mints and cheap dusty postcards that were pictures of cotton, boll weevils and Champion Jack Dupree. The restaurant smelled like food.
The fat man nodded at a booth by the window. Lungsee led the way, slid in and scooched close to the glass. Emile began to sit opposite. Whoa, over here, lil buddy, said Lungsee motioning for his side of the booth.
Over there? We’ll look like fags.
We’re meeting somebody, and I don’t want her to...
And there she was. Six feet two at least, short blonde hair that was yanked back, stretched tight, into a prickly ponytail. She wore a tan blouse and sensible blue slacks and her gaze was not pleasant. Her thighs were not pleasant. It seemed to Emile she had seen it all, and didn’t like any of it. And the massive pistol hanging from her armpit indicated that she was probably going to do something about something. She stood over the table, a thin folder in her grip, and stared at Emile until he slunk from his side of the booth to the other. She sat.
The perturbed waitress shot across the floor sloshing three coffees. She glared at Emile, and he gave back a look of unease. The waitress took off, lest her service be ordered.
Nip? said the lady with the gun in a funny accent.
Nip, concurred Lungsee.
Nip? she repeated to Emile.
Outstanding, she said. She pulled out a flask of something and splashed the something into all of their coffee cups.
Love that nip, Lungsee said, elbowing Emile’s ribs and nodding to the lady’s left breast. The strap from the shoulder holster stretched her blouse and a shiny sliver of frayed brown lace bra showed and the creamy whiter skin of her bosom glowed bright. Her tit was massive, gorgeous, perfect, and the dull black cannon beneath it hung there like a steel cock, loitering for a shot at it.
Emile took a few quick breaths, shifted in his seat and looked to the aisle floor. Crumbs. A crouton. A shard of lettuce. Brackish. His chest felt tight. He did not feel good. At all. He could puke if he thought about it.
The lady put away her flask and said, I need a good nip in the A and M. Glad you boys see the same. I don’t have time for food. Had a triple kill last night over at Adams at Fourth, and it’s really fucking up my day. The negros are out of control.
What about those body snatchers trying to make of with the King’s corpse? said Lungsee.
Amateurs. Not even. Something smells on that one. Smells like horse shit. In ammonia. Tossed with rotten eggs. Know what I mean? and she spit this question at Emile.
She asked you a question, little E, said Lungsee.
Emile twitched his head and said, Uh, I don’t know what, that, smells like, ma’am.
She and Lungsee shared a little smile and then she slid her folder onto the broad tabletop between them and opened it. It contained about five pages, some handwritten, some typed and some Xeroxed. She scanned the top one to herself, in silence.
She’s the first chick detective in MPD history, man. Ever, said Lungsee. A legend. Can you believe that? Badder than Charles Bronson.
Emile said, Wow, as his eyes darted from her to the folder to Lungsee and then all over again.
She took a long slow sip of her spiked coffee and then read from the top paper. Ty Fournier. Male. Caucasian. Twenty years of age, approximately. Residence, unknown. Employment… grifter. Here she looked at Emile with associative contempt; she continued: Hair brown, eyes blue, height about six feet and weight one sixty… she continued on for a solid minute. Information about his stays at Shepard Hall and the Shelby County Criminal Psychiatric Installation at Red Acres. His doctors and their official evaluations and unofficial rundowns. Parole and probation status, presiding judges and court appointed attorneys. She even tossed in a little story she knew about one of Ty’s attorney’s attempted suicide. Now he has a case worker, she snortled.
Emile grew uneasy. Deeply. He stirred in the booth. He rubbed his hands on his thighs and they got warm. He rocked back and forth ever so slightly, his back rigid. The information just kept coming. Facts and more facts of facts, and wasn’t this exactly what Lungsee condemned not an hour ago? And now the facts just blitzed and barraged and lambasted him. Fucking hypocrite, he thought of Lungsee, and then paranoia blossomed. Emile’s psyche teetered on snapping because he realized, decided, knew that Lungsee was no longer to be trusted. He and this demented lady cop were now speaking a suspicious language Emile couldn’t understand, integrate, find use for.
Said Lungsee when she stopped talking: Did said suspect advance the court, or pull a section 109A and stand firm on City’s prior definition of reasonably psychotic?
You’re kidding me, right? she answered. The latter, without question.
They snickered in unison, like schoolgirls at lunch, but why then did Emile feel like the child at the grownup’s table? Why is Lungsee talking like this? Why is he so friendly with…? Narc. Emile swore right then and there with some silent twitching gestures of his lips that Lungsee was a narc. A goddamn narco rat snitch fuck because this is the only way to explain away phrases such as ‘said suspect’, ‘pull a section 109A’.
Emile wanted to interject with authority, all the authority he found upstairs at Graceland, that Ty really didn’t matter. He wanted to say they were long-shot brothers at best, anyway. I don’t really care anymore, frankly. Thanks for your interest, but I have to go. But the words couldn’t come. He scanned the restaurant for evidence of cocktails. The mystery liquid in the coffee he would not touch, and he was thinking of something with fruit, a fruity something. Maybe a Mai Tai. And a cigarette. His eyes landed on the waitress station in the far back corner, and there she was. Tiny she was but everything on her loomed large. Boobs, hips, lips, eyes, nostrils and hair. Husky eyelashes. She looked Mexican. She looked five-two. If she could shed all her big womanly accoutrements, she’d weigh maybe fifty pounds. But she was all that, and she was as steamy and smoky and as ruinous as any woman Emile had ever seen.
Yet something was strange. She was staring right at him and wouldn’t stop. Her eyes were so big and black that he couldn’t discern the pupils and where they were actually aiming. Maybe the booth behind him. Lungsee?
But suddenly, what was rapturous and exhilarating became odd and adverse. It wasn’t a stare. It was a death scowl, and it was a scowl that Emile knew she could sell to women across the globe for millions of dollars because her scowl scared the living crap out him.
Does the person of interest have any known relatives in the Memphis area, other than the suspect at my immediate right? Lungsee asked like a good cop.
Right. Good question, she said. We have not been able to locate or ID any other known…
Emile could hear their conversation, but the waitress was coming his way. Now he couldn’t stop staring. She turned at the last minute and crossed to the portal in the wall that opened to the kitchen. Three heaping plates arrived on the food sill and she picked them up without breaking her glare at him, those big eyes over her big collar.
Emile tried to look in his lap but she was so beautiful and intoxicating, he could not. She floated around the corner and then down his aisle and she came and snorted and came and scowled and Emile stiffened and his thigh jack-hammered up and down.
She passed and he still didn’t know exactly where she was looking because her damn saucer eyes looked like eight balls and when he turned to look she was handing the plates to three customers but still glaring at him and the customers obviously were not pleased with her service because she gave them unordered food and they spoke up about it but she just walked away.
Emile craned his neck all the way around and when he zoomed his head back to stare at the table he noticed that half the coffee was gone from his cup. He looked to Lungsee’s cup and it was sucked dry.
A rough brush of something ruffled his shoulder and he looked and it was her in her pink polyester mini-dress uniform with big floppy white collars. Adorable. A doll. She glided past and glared back like a little Mexican Medusa and Emile stared and froze and wanted to fuck her before she killed him and he was trying to figure out how to do just that when he remembered he saw her name-tag and it read Bianca.
He wanted to smile and say her name before dying but instead he heard Lungsee say, Speed is the worst, man… And the Lady Cop responded, Negative. Speed kills. Ty guy also has seven priors for distribution and intent to sell… and Emile then knew for sure that Lungsee was a narc.
But why would he bring me here, Emile asked himself, and then his paranoia convulsed back in by the sight of a small dark bushy man emerging from the kitchen. He sported a fat drooping mustache, rolled up white sleeves and thick wavy hair, like a Cretan. A Cretan assassin. He scanned the dining room and then fixated on Emile.
And Emile spasmed. And understood well the entire scenario. Bianca and her bushman busboy boyfriend had been burned by Lungsee, the narco rat snitch fuck, in a drug deal that was to have put food on their hopeful immigrant table in their hopeful immigrant hovel for their hopeful immigrant children, but they got set-up and nailed and did hard time at the farm and then this restaurant, The Arcade, gave them their probation jobs and it all made a perfect story, a story that should never have included me, but who cares about me? What’s one more fatality, because they are going to kill Lungsee and the sexy lady cop and, Why the fuck spare me? Emile mumbled aloud. Why? Why spare me? No reason. None…
The bushy busboy began his slow walk down the far wall and then turned the corner and came up the aisle and for some warped reason Emile had to know his name, and for another, more warped reason, he was able to actually read the nametag from thirty feet away and the nametag read Lee.
Oh, Christ, fucking perfect. Lee. Jesus. Harvey Oswald. James Lee Ray. Three fucking names, Lee’s always the middle, oh, Christ fuck, Emile blustered aloud stamping his right foot on the floor.
However, all’s not lost with him, the Lady Cop continued. Last time I confronted the subject, he was cogent and clear and sober, and said he’d been apprenticing to be a writer of some type. Maybe poetry. Or labels for products, like ketchup bottle labels, or whatnot.
Emile couldn’t watch Lee anymore so he bowed his head and thought of the crazy rum that may or may not have changed his life and somehow brought him here to this diner of death, and then Lungsee’s fat narco leg accidently bumped into his and his mind shit on the facts of trust and friendship and loyalty and pity, and Emile let loose. He said, I let a black fencer in my house who’s writing a fucking memoir called Life of a Salesman, and I sold him a toilet, a toilet I stole from Elvis fucking Presley, and you see what happens when you confuse loyalty and pity? Huh? You see what happens?! You die! You fucking die!
Lungsee and the Lady cop stopped talking and looked at Emile. Is he feeling okay? she asked.
I don’t know. Emile, are you feeling okay?
Uh, I feel fine except for the foreigners…
What are you talking about, son? she said. But before Emile could answer, she continued, Okay, Lungsee, this is a summary brief action one-sheet report I had drawn up, and it has all the intel you’ll need to locate this Ty clown. It’s the best I can do. Good seeing you, pumpkin. And with that, she stood with her folder and left.
Wow, what a gal! said Lungsee slapping the table. He held up the paper she left. This is what I call a sheet report of brief action. I like that fat ass, too, he said watching her go. Cute little detective getup.
But this Lee character was close enough for Emile to see that carried a butcher cleaver in his meaty right fist and, if he weren’t mistaken, and he was fairly certain he was not, that meaty fist was trembling.
Oh fucking god, he’s got a knife, he’s got a knife, he’s got a knife.
Lungsee looked up from draining the Lady Cop’s spiked coffee and harrumphed, Who? That guy? Fuck that asshole. That’s Lee. God damn cuckold bastard.
Lee arrived. Emile wanted to scream but he hyperventilated instead and Lungsee chuckled and said to Lee, Um, we’re done here, so you can take these away. Chop chop.
I chop chop you diseasing little houseless cocky! Lee said.
Bianca burst to the table and with a shaky smile and jerk hands said, Well, well, is Lunsee, no? Golly, I no seen you in many times? Uh, I glad you back, and why you no come to here no more, Meester, Lunsee?
Lungsee dabbed the corners of his mouth with his napkin and placed it neatly on the table and said, You know, Bianca, I am glad you asked. I will tell you. I no come to here no more because your meatloafo es stinko, you refuse to offer meatloafo with gravyo and your brother here sucks shit out of dogs’ assholes!
Lee whipped up a crazed, YipYipYipYip! and waving his cleaver.
He no me brother! He me husband, me esposa, tu el ojete! Get out! Get out! I never love you, Lunsee! Never, never! Oh, ho, ho, ho!
Lee planted the cleaver an inch into the tabletop and Emile’s coffee cup catapulted across the room.
All you say me, suck my cock, suck my cock, suck my cock, and I know you no love me, you no love me, Lunsee, when you say like this, only like this! Get out! I no love you too! she wailed and stamped her feet and flung herself onto Lee, shaking her head back and forth and sobbing and crying in Spanish, her hair a messy black jungle of carnal fineness, and scared wanting eyes, waiting for some ravage.
The fat man at the register bounded over with a sawed-off pump-action combat shotgun and asked Emile and Lungsee nicely to leave.
Lungsee had obviously snagged a toothpick on the way out because Emile slapped it from his mouth. It fell silently to the sidewalk. Lungsee seemed honestly surprised. He tried to find the little wood stick on the ground. What’s the matter with you? he said.
The matter with me? Matter with me?
Yeah, you. You just slapped me.
Yeah, and that Lee fucker almost chopped off all my fingers! And your dick!
Like to see him try. That would have been something, huh?
No! It wouldn’t have! They don’t grow back, Lungsee! Fingers and dicks don’t grow on trees! I can’t go to the finger farm and…
Okay, I get it. I just used to have a thing with her, and I thought that if I came with some people she would think I have some friends.
What?! Bianca? You wanted her to think…
And then with all the cash we got, I was thinking I could come in and leave her a real big tip, and she would think I’m wealthy now, and responsible, and maybe… you know. But when I saw Lee, I knew they must have gotten back together, and then I just got sad, and then I got mad. I don’t know. It’s fucked up. But I’m not in love or anything, man. So don’t worry about that. You can dog her if you want. I won’t mind.
Emile put his hands on his hips and stuck one leg out and opened his mouth in total shock. He looked at the ground and then back to the restaurant’s door and then said, Why didn’t you just talk to her, man? She walked by ten times. I thought she was trying to kill me!
She can’t talk. You heard that gibberish. I no like you no more, no? Triple fucking negative. And Lunsee. Lunsee. Ha! She can’t even say my name properly. They don’t have ’g’s down in Guerrero? Fucking town starts with a g. I just don’t get ’em.
Then don’t have things with ’em!
The heart has its reasons, Emile, of which knowledge knows no, heart… I am a man. I have dirges just like the next…
No. No! You’re not a man. You’re a Lungsee! Whatever the hell that is, and I am through! Through with this shit! You fucking needle me and probe me and spew crap out of that god damn mouth of yours, and it’s nothing but shit, you know, and then you get mad when I have a good idea and you have to get even and then you drag me into your sordid little immigrant trysts… and resonance? Resonance?! How this for resonance?! You’re a rube! And uneducated fucking imbecile goddamn shitburger rube! How about that?! That resonating with you?!
Lungsee stood there like a farm animal and took it. All living emotion vanished. Zero expression. His eyes glazed.
You’re fucking retarded, man. Face it. You talk to trees. Hell, you listen to trees, which is probably even worse. You eat like a blind orangutan, you’re a total fucking alcoholic and in spite of all this, in spite of all this, all this incontrovertible evidence, you still think you’re a dashing dazzling renegade intellectual with subversive news and views and progressive psychological modules of living on higher astral fucking planes of… dimensions! You’re fucking warped, man. Warped. Whatever…
Emile turned his back and walked a few feet away and looked around for an out. A taxi. Bus. Something. A tourist horse and buggy with Randy’s Rides stenciled on the side clomped up and Emile hailed the slow-moving carriage and the driver said, Sorry, Governor, and tipped his top hat.
Emile couldn’t believe it. Insulted to the marrow. The wind blew a paper sack across the street and he thought that was just great. He thought that sized up his entire existence just perfectly. A paper sack sliding across the road.
I may not be the smartest guy in the world, but…
Shut up! Emile barked without looking. If you can’t contribute anything meaningful, anything substantive to the conversation, then just shut the fuck up, completely, okay?
And what are you contributing?
Nothing! That’s the point! I am contributing nothing because you are an imbecile, and I don’t communicate with imbeciles!
Lungsee didn’t move. He blinked a couple of times. He looked to the sidewalk and spotted his toothpick. He stooped and picked it up and looked at it. He put it in his mouth and said, Well, I don’t remember seeing any fancy degrees on your wall.
I went to Vandy, Lungsee. Vanderbilt, okay? Emile was tired. He studied the architecture of the old train station across the street. Beautiful, he thought. Solid, old, silent. This is how he used to think of Lungsee. But not anymore. Why do people always nose in and take, he thought. The one certain thing in this world, people will let you down. Emile felt alone like never before.
Vanderbilt? Really? Lungsee said. You never told me that. Why didn’t you tell me?
I don’t know. What difference does it make, huh?
I had no idea, but I guess it makes sense. You are really smart. You are probably the smartest guy I’ve ever known. I knew that, but now that you say… I just didn’t know. Leave something like that out… thought I knew you…
Emile sighed. Look, man, I didn’t tell you because I thought you might think I was some kind of… I thought you might look down on that, not like me as much... I don’t know. The have and the have-nots thing?
Lungsee looked at Emile. He couldn’t understand. I would love to go to Vanderbilt. Sit in the classroom. With pretty girls, smell their perfume. Toss around ideas and banter with the teacher about postmodern thought experiments. And the library. Whoa, daddy. I wouldn’t even need a sleeping room. I would just live with the books. Know where all the different ones are. I’d be like the person who works in the library, and if you ever needed a book, I could help you…
A blue Ford LTD pulled up to the curb and the automatic passenger window ground down and it was the Lady Cop, and she said, Lungsee!
Emile followed Lungsee to the car and they looked inside. Papers, briefcase, evidence bags, badge, cigarettes, coffee cups and crackers and wrappers. It looked like a ransacked 7-Eleven. She leaned across the wide seat and had her radio in one hand and said, I just heard this tidbit from my partner. Idlewild Church. Up in midtown. Ty was arrested there last week for exposure. Indecent exposure in the soup line. What an asshole.
Oh, great! Okay, thanks! said Lungsee.
She sped off and Lungsee turned to Emile. Idlewildwood church. I know the place. They do a lot of outreach stuff. Should have thought of that.
I don’t even know if I care anymore, to tell you the truth, Emile said.
Emile looked at Lungsee for a long moment. The big fella was watching a butterfly flutter about in front of a brick wall. He stopped watching the butterfly and turned back and looked at Emile and anticipated his next question. She worked my father’s murder, he said. That’s how I know her. My last name is Beasley. My name is Lungsee Beasley. He stuck out his hand and Emile shook it.
A urine yellow taxi appeared and stopped and the cabbie smiled and stuck his big hairy head out the window and asked if they wanted a ride. Lungsee and Emile looked at one another and got in. The taxi drove away in an easy chug, right past Lou’s Lincoln.
You knowing what I’m knowing? said Lou.
Don’t know, boss. What you knowing?
I knowing the damn truth is what I’m knowing, cause I just saw it right there with my own two eyes. And if you’re not knowing what I’m knowing, well then…
Oh, I’m knowing it, alright. I just didn’t know which thing you’re knowing that was being referenced, seeing as to how there are many things, at this point in time, you know, worth knowing, Delly said.
Lou scanned the area with his slit, hungover eyes. The sun’s white-hot blast baked his eyeballs.
So, uh, which one of the things you knowing was you talking about there, boss? The lady cop, right?
Lou turned to Delly and said, What else?
I know it.
And you know what it means, I trust.
You got a couple of snitches all up in your shit.
Our shit. But it means something else, in toto. They looked to each other. Lou didn’t mean to say it; just came out. We need to get underground.
That’s right. Deep underground.
Well, we can’t go home, that’s for damn sure.
Ain’t no two ways about that.
Lou shifted in his seat. He thought, schemed, planned.
Oh, you mean underground like Harry Truman? Delly said.
Harry Truman? The fuck are you talking about?
I don’t know. So, after we get underground, then what?
We kill the little snitches, that’s what, Lou snapped. You, not me. Lou sat up and watched as a black and white police prowler appeared out of nowhere and crept away down a side alley. Harry Truman?
I don’t know, said Delly.
Lou yanked the gearshift to drive, pulled a hard u-turn and mashed the gas and sailed obliviously past a long burgundy Cadillac Fleetwood with Jackie at the helm and the boys crammed in back like shaggy polyester clowns. Man, they come all the way down here and don’t even eat, said one the boys.
Maybe he forgot his wallet, said another.
Or he seen us.
Or he could’ve lost his appetite. Sometimes I lose mine like that. I’m hungry one minute...
You trust them girls back at the house, do you, Jackie? said the little one in a brown vest.
This stung. Titling the rear-view mirror to leer into the back seat, Jackie said, You saying Donna ain’t trustworthy? Huh? You suggesting that that greasy day-go noodle wop mother fucker Johnny Scaglinardi…
Naw, man, all’s I’m saying is about the figarines and shit. Are they safe back there with us out here, you know, in the field?
One of the more burned out boys addressed this: Hey man, the word figurine is only used to describe things that people have no other way of describing. It’s nomenclature, man. That’s all, man.
You’re one dumb son of a bitch, man, Jackie said to the little one in the brown vest.
Why we chasing Lou anyway, Jackie? asked another.
Jackie moved the rear view and looked at himself. He licked two fingers and dragged them one at a time across his thin eye-brows. Ya’ll remember that bottle on the kitchen counter when we come in from the airport? That jagged, busted neck bottle?
Yep, seen it. What about it?
That was Lou’s. I plum forgot it. But there it was, setting there like a crystal fucking ball, telling me a very interesting little story. Jackie scrubbed a little crusted mustard from the corners of his mouth with thumb and forefinger. A prophesy is what it was.
A prophesy? Foreseeing what, Jackie?
Jackie quit the mirror and leaned back in the seat. He looked at the spongy ceiling above and wondered of its material. Remember that day out back when Lou start flapping shit about wanting to screw little ole Crystal up the butt? Well, after I took him aside and booted his ass, and after you discharged your weapon there Barney, Jackie said to laughter howling in the backseat. So, after I booted him, he asked to use the commode one last time, and I of course said okay, but I followed him and he used the kitchen shitter and I waited outside the door and I could hear him in there talking to himself and he kept saying over and over, You talking to me? Huh? You talking to me? just like the mohawk freak in that fucked up Cybil picture. He says, I’ll be back, he kept saying. You’ll see, Jackie Dunlop, I’ll be back...
No shit? Then what? said one.
Well, said Jackie, then he flushes, and I dart on like a spooked jackrabbit, but when I seen that jagged bottle on the counter the other morning, I didn’t know it at the time, but it come to me… Jackie paused for effect. Lou took our figurine.
A long uneasy quiet flittered around inside the car. Jackie’s genius had disturbed the air.
One of the dimmer boys spoke up: Figarine, latrine. That shit rhymes, man. Fig-a-reen, lah-treen. The boys exploded with laughter. The car rolled from side to side. Jackie grinned, adjusted the mirror and cranked the motor.
Yes, it do, he said. He nailed the gas and squealed the tires.