Whitewashed Tombs

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Figures Guttering on a Screen

"Buy the sky and sell the sky and left your arms up to the sky and bleed the sky and ask the sky, don't fall on me, don't fall on me." - REM

"Whoa unto you scribes and pharisees, for you are like whitewashed tombs full of dead men's bones." - Jesus quoting Isaiah to the sanhedrin in the Book of Mathew

New Orleans: September 1, 2001

Undercover narcotics work is dirty, nasty business. If SWAT is the special forces of police work, then NARC is its intelligence apparatus. Criminals with guns, badges and fast cars. Specter-like. Shadows and whispers. Lies, surveillance and set-ups. Pay-offs to hookers and pimps for information on dealers, dope and murder, lots of murder. Covered up to look really clean or at least legal. And with murder you always have holes, lots of holes.

It was about 9am Saturday. Outside my window somebody was playing a saxophone, sounded like a Beatles song.

I'd been staying at the Burgundy Inn since the day Clint Saucea was killed, two weeks ago on August 18, 2001. He'd been my best friend since childhood and my partner for over fifteen years. Fresh out of high school, we did a three-year buddy-hitch in the Marine Corps, special-ops down in Central America. Very Macabre stuff.

After coming home we joined NOPD, made the tact-team in less than two months. Since '89, the two of us had run the department's Red Dog Squad, a secret narco unit full of badasses that prowled the Big Easy like legalized thugs. Some of the worst people you could ever meet, and each one was a cop or a confidential informant. And Clint and I ran the whole show.

But now, the show wasn't so secret anymore. Even the mayor denied knowledge of it. And Clint Saucea, he was full of holes, lots of holes.

The thing had been all over the news. Internal Affairs had lots of questions, but I didn't have many answers. I was on suspension without pay and had a lot of time on my hands. But all I did was sit and drink and think of the holes.

My drinking had always been hard, but was usually limited to off-duty binges. Now I lived by the bottle, up to a fifth a day plus beer. I hadn't even left room 201 since I checked in two weeks ago. Down stairs was an all-night pizza joint. Across the street was a 24 hour dive bar. And just around the corner was a little liquor store that never closed. And everything was delivery 24/7, even the bottles. But I was now down to my last thirteen bucks, and my last Marlboro.

I'm not really sure when I first noticed the strange de ja vue-feeling; it was unlike any de ja vue I'd ever had. It seemed almost constant, as if it had always been there. As if there had never been a time when it wasn't there.

My eyes were playing tricks on me. I kept seeing projections in the TV screen, detailed images in the mirror, in the glass of the window. A tall building was burning, suddenly struck by what looked like a big black dragon.

"I rebuke the spirits of self-absorption and suicide!" proclaimed some televangelist telling me how much I needed Jesus, a sudden overlay of the dragon striking the burning building.

I wanted to change channels, but couldn't find the remote. I'd just come to from another blackout. I was afraid if I stood to look for it, I'd fall flat on my face. I was actually dizzy while sitting in a chair.

The place was a total wreck. Roaches large and small scurried everywhere. I'd left the window open all night, so flies and mosquitoes buzzed my miserable chamber as I approached the outskirts of oblivion. To my left was a small table littered with empty beer cans, empty whiskey and vodka bottles, mounds of cigarette butts and pizza crusts.

Through the glass of the bottles, I could just make out the blurry image of my Kimbler .45 handgun, a birthday gift from Clint a few years ago. Must've cost over a grand.

I lit the Marlboro and tried some of the beer cans, only to find stale back wash. Noticed a slim, amber finger of whiskey at the bottom of one of the bottles. A nice snort of Even Williams to steady my hand.

Had I seen something in its tiny ripples as I swilled it down? Something that hurried me? Something terrifying in its end? A glimpse of something burning?

In the corner, a rat the size of a lap dog nibbled on a piece of pizza crust. Besides the occasional delivery boy, the rodent had been my only companion for the past two weeks. I slowly reached for my gun, easing it from the clutter. After holding it in my lap for a moment, I pointed it at the rat. It momentarily froze, as if realizing its possible fate. Then it continued to feast on the week-old dough and cheese.

Struck by an overwhelming desire to shoot the televangelist, I pointed the gun at the TV. Hadn't they found this guy with a whore? Twice? Maybe so, but why ruin a good television just because you can't find the remote?

I wanted to call and talk to somebody, anybody. But when I did everybody hung up, even my old girlfriends and mistresses. My wife had filed for divorce and put a restraining order on me. The bitch wouldn't even let me speak to my son and two daughters. Regret and misery hung on me like a millstone. I was pariah. Two weeks from now I'll be old news. So why not do every one a big favor?

I turned the gun around in my hand and stared down its barrel. A hole, a dark, sinister hole that silently screamed at me. A hole that could spit fire and lead, splattering my brains all over the room.

How many barrels had I looked down? How many times had my life flashed before my eyes?

It was a Beatles song, I suddenly realized, a sax riff from one of their happier tunes. That meant Paul probably sang it. He usually sang the happy stuff. But there was something different about it; the words had been changed.

"You can go your way. I'm 'on go my way. We'll meet somewheres down da road."

A nice little tune to die by, I thought as my thumb gently squeezed the trigger, my eyes still gazing down the barrel, the hole.

But what song was that sax riff to? It was a song I knew well, but couldn't place. And the words, those weren't Beatle-words. They could've been, probably should've been, but weren't.

"You can drive dat car. I'm 'on drive dis car. We'll meet somewheres later on."

I knew the name of the song would come to me if I just kept thinking. Then I could pull the trigger.

"You can drink dat beer. I'm 'on drink dis beer. We'll drink somewheres later on."

Then, just as I'd given up on the song, increasing pressure on the trigger, there was a knock at the door.

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