Gun Street Lover
You can’t drink all day unless you start in the morning, so I’m gonna start strong, with a Bloody Mary on a downtown train: Vodka, tomato juice and two shots of tequila. That’ll wake you up. I kick back. Let the cool breeze push me on the waves sweet lady liquor has made for me. Room’s not spinning enough for me, but I have to pace myself. Staying tipsy all day, it’s an art form, like painting or archery. If it were easy everyone would do it.
I hear light footsteps coming up my stairs as women’s silhouette sneaks into my office doors window. She’s pacing, arguing with herself if she should come in. I hear muttered sentences. “I should do this myself… stronger than this… need proof.” With a big huff, her shadow stands upright and she taps on my door.
“Come on in, baby.”
She walks in, nervously rubbing her hands together. Yellow dress and a massive sunhat. Petite thing.
“Detective Tom Watts?”
“Yes indeedy. What can this ol’ gum shoe do for you Ma’am?” I say, putting my empty cup down in my drinks cabin. I’m tempted to offer her a drink, but my three cups are covered in lipstick, full of old whiskey and housing spiders, respectively.
“May I sit down?” She says, walking towards my desk.
“Be my guest.”
She pulls out the chair on the opposite side of my desk. Starts coughing up a storm at the dust bursting out. Yeah, I wasn’t expecting any company. Honestly, place could use a women’s touch.
I sit down opposite her. She hands me a picture. Her and a guy in it. His cheekbones come up to his temples and his chin is wide and sharp, like the tip of a knife. Shovel Face. She starts speaking.
“My… My husband has been acting strange lately. He, he disappears every night and he gets so, angry whenever I ask him where he’s been, and I’m just-” She stops. Takes a deep breath and looks me dead in the eyes. There’s a new fire in them. She stops stuttering and she’s speaking loudly now. “ I’m tired of being treated like this, of being left in the dark. I want to know where’s he’s going every night and I want to know what he’s doing.” She stands up. “ And I will not let- ack! Gah!” She goes into another coughing fit and sits back down. Kicked up too much dust while she was moving.
“Its alright Ma’am. Just tell me where he works and I’ll cover the rest.”
I sit on a bench outside La Commissary Café and wait for my man. It’s a young night. Grey skies are swallowed by approaching darkness, and the city’s lights are drowning out the stars, leaving only the moon in the sky, half alive and lonely. Staff’s started their closing rituals, setting up the tables, locking up the merchandise. Shovel Face bursts out of the café. He circles in place looking around frantically. He doesn’t want to be followed, but this isn’t my first rodeo. As soon as he came out the café, I duck behind a newspaper. Satisfied no one important is around he jogs towards Main Street. I follow, ducking in and out of alleyways and buildings every time he looks over his shoulder. Shovel Face comes to a stop. Waits by the main road and signals a taxi. Taxi stops with a jerk. Jerk gets out, takes a second to cuss at the driver, pushes Shovel Face away and stomps off. Shovel Face gets in the car, and I grab another cab as quick as I can.
“Follow that cab!” I say.
“Piss off, mate! They don’t allow stalking in this city!” I get out and wave down a different cab. None of them are keen. I look out to see how far Shovel Face has gotten. Bout nine feet. Should have expected as much. Traffic in this city is more loaded than a casino’s dice. I follow him on foot, two cars behind and one to the left, safest way to stalk someone.
Shovel Face gets to where he’s going. He leaps out his cab. Takes a right turn. Ducks into Gun Street. I stop. Don’t like Gun Street. It’s dangerous. Not for your body, but your head, for your soul. Life is wrong here and nothing makes sense. I look into the street. Boy painted bright pink's walking the streets like he owns the place, strutting in just a pin stripe jacket and a wide brimmed fedora, a cigar in their beak. It’s already here. I can already see it, this neighborhoods soul; a deperate and lonely freak trying to drag all that come by down to its level. It’ll just get worse the deeper I go. But I think of the girl and I think of what I’ve said I would do. I made a promise, I promise to someone who needs me. I also like money. I pick up the pace, catch up to my boy.
Streets are lined with neon lights. Every joint along the sidewalk has an amateur squawking out songs into the roads, and the homeless are pouring out their souls to anyone who’s walking by. A girl stops me, points to her face. She has a tattooed tear mark running down her cheek. “One for every year that he’s away,” she says. There's still only one. Three kinds of car welded together into a limo slams into a parking and a drag queen, with a diamond ring bigger than her hand steps out. Her right arm's bigger than the rest of her body, like the ring’s been acting as her own personal dumbbell. Half-dressed men and women rush into a church and I hear lights and jazz music pour out of the giant wooden door. I try to drag myself away, drag myself back to reality, back to the job. Shovel Face walks past all this, like there’s nothing in front of him. He’s used to all this, I realize. Whatever he going here for, he’s been doing it a while.
Shovel Face heads to the end of the district, into the Rain Dogs Inn, between two other bars: the Debauched Ostrich and the Gilded Ferret. No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded. I wait five minutes before following him. It’s big. Size of a warehouse, one of the biggest joints in Gun Street. Whole place is drowning in smoke. I can barely see the stage at the back, or the two balconies overlooking it.
Some people in costumes bump past me while I get back to my thoughts. Why does he wanna be here? I look around, I look for clues. The bartender’s old, greyed and saggy, crooked nose, conniving eyes. I ask her about shovel face. She barely wheezes out, he’s here a lot, never orders. Just stares at the stage and goes to the performers rooms when all the shows are done.
“Can anyone just go in there?” I ask. Bartenders my only lead so far, but she’s not a talker, and every syllable is like drawing blood from a piece of iron ore. She hack an affirming grunt and taps her tip jar.
I slide up the left balcony, by the pool tables to stay out of his sight. Place is messy up top. The walls are covered in scratches and jailhouse tattoos, busted christmas lights are hanging from the ceiling and I’m tripping over beer bottles. I lean over the balcony to look at Shovel Face, try to dig deeper into who he is, why he’s here. Boy’s taken one of the tables they got in front of the stage. He’s looking spiffy, in a black tuxedo with a red bowtie. Bouquet of flowers on his table and he’s looking dead at the stage, hunger in his eyes. He’s got a sweetheart performing, but which performer? Gonna kill time till he makes his move.
Been itching for a drink since I got interrupted this morning, so I drown myself in whiskey and shoot billiards with a dwarf dressed in his Sunday best. He’s good. He’s real good. Good enough to move my attention from Shovel Face.
“ What’s your name, baby?”
“Ba-” He cuts himself off. Shaking his head. “Its Jacque.”
“So Jacque, what do you do?”
“I’m a poet.”
What do you do for a living?”
“Smartass. I do some part-time deliveries for cafés.”
“So where’d you learn to shoot?”
“I play at a lot of bars where I do poetry jams. Also play the congas for one of the bands here. Speaking of…” he puts down his cue. “Got to go. We’re up next.”
I watch him go down the stairs. Guy that’s onstage now is old, or younger than he looks. Voice ain’t fit for singing. It sounds like someone soaked it in a vat of bourbon, left it in the smokehouse for a week then ran over it with a car. I wait for his set to finish and check what shovel face’s doing.
He’s perked up, going to the edge of his seats with a smile stretching across his face. I can see why. With a saunter like some gorgeous tropical bird strutting for its mate, a seven-foot stunner walks onto the stage. Red gown and built in all the right places, with a voice like someone’s pouring red wine into your ears. She has the crowd in her complete control for every second she’s onstage. She punctuates every word with a flourish, and lets her hair, black as a bucket of tar, whip across her body, like ink flowing in water. By the time she’s done singing, the whole crowds too stunned to applause, all except one. Shovel Face is clapping till his hands are sore and he’s grinning like an idiot.
Shovel Face gets up, walks towards the performers section, through a door with a golden star on it. I wait till the door shuts before I follow him. Corridor where the performers are is too cramped, too small for me to stay out of sight, so I wait just outside of it, listen in and see what Shovel Face’s up to. I hear him talking to someone, the usual buttery crap. “ You were amazing my sweet, truly outstanding! I must have you! I need! Please, let me take you!” I hear him push some people in the corridor out the way and slam a door shut. I run in after him. Furthest door leads, to the kitchen, then to a back alley.
I can hear smooching in the alleyway. I can see just barely see his shadow on the ground. I pull my camera out from my jacket and find a place to get a good photo, something solid for the little lady to use. Behind the trashcans, hobos and empty bottles, I set up, hiding behind a garbage dumpster. I ready my shot. Looking up and… he’s kissing my billiard partner Jacque. Bloody Gun Street.
“Ma’am I’m sorry, but your husband is cheating on you with a dwarf.”
The End, Baby
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