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PATRICK J. LAMBE lives in the
wonderfully corrupt state of New Jersey where he works as a telephone technician
and writes crime fiction. He is also an artist whose work has appeared in
numerous art shows. He just had an innovative idea: if you can have a casting
couch for the movies, why not books? Like most of his innovative ideas heíll
probably forget about this one when he sobers up.
The first man I ever killed was my Uncle Sal. There were mitigating circumstances. He had a couple of guys trying to kill me, Mazzucco would have gunned me down if I didnít pull the trigger, and Uncle Sal wasnít really my Uncle, to name a few. Oh, yeah. One more. I thought he had murdered my best friend.
Iíve only had two and half friends my entire life. My first friend was Dennis McCarthy, the son of my baseball coach. I used to go to his house after practice and try to get a lucky glimpse of his older sisters naked. We remained friendly until graduating from high school, then he went to study tree huggery in Montana, while I went to work for Uncle Sal.
My second friend was Gino Ďthe Ventilatorí Verenichi. Most people thought he got his nickname from a job he did for Uncle Sal; but the truth is, he got stuck in some ductwork during a burglary attempt and had to call some of the guys on his cell phone to get him out. One of the guys figured the ductwork was some type of ventilation system, and the name stuck. Gino introduced me to Courvoisier, and taught me the difference between buying clothes off the rack and having them custom made. They found his body dumped in an empty lot on Commercial Avenue a little over three month ago, five .38 round holes in his custom tailored suit.
My half friend is a fucked up private detective named Reilly. He was also the first man I ever wanted to kill. I almost did it one night, on a park bench on Manhattanís west side, right by the river. He had double crossed me by rescuing a guy I was supposed to bring back for Uncle Sal. I had my Sig 229 pointed right at Reillyís head, and although he eventually closed his eyes like I asked him to, I couldnít pull the trigger.
No such scruples about the second man I wanted to kill. Fortunately for him, he was untouchable. Which brings me back to my PI friend. I always told him I might have use for a man with his skills, and if I couldnít get murder victim number two through my normal channels, Iíd have to get him through the legal ones.
I hadnít seen Tony ĎGQí Carlisle in a few months, but I couldnít really say I was surprised when I opened the back door of my apartment and found him rubbing my catís ears. My cat always liked Tony, and so did I, although I doubt Iíd ever trust him enough to let him rub me behind the ears.
"What happened your hair, Tony?" I asked as he set my cat down onto my desk. Last time I saw him, his hair was a near uniform jet black. Now it was dotted with gray. An automatic pistol bulged in the front of his blue and white Gucci running suit top.
"My girlfriend Rita says I look distinguished."
"The only thing that should be distinguished at the age of twenty four should be a bottle of Scotch."
He walked over to the nightstand next to my bed and picked up my gun. "Youíve got yourself a Sig. Good choice." He pulled his own Sig out of its holster and examined it with a critical eye.
"Yours looked so good pointed at my head, I just couldnít resist."
"The Krauts make great guns. Did you know they produced the first semi automatic assault rifles during World War II? Theyíd have won if theyíd made them a couple of months earlier."
"Iím quarter German and the only gun God gave me has a short barrel and fires too quickly."
"Youíre part Kraut, huh? Had you pegged for a full-blooded Mick, but I guess it makes sense. You seem to apply Germanic discipline to your drinking," he said, eyeing the mound of empty beer cans occupying a respectable portion of the top of the carpet lined bar occupying one wall of my studio apartment.
He put the gun back where he found it and sat down in my chair. The cat jumped up on his lap and he resumed rubbing its ears. "Feel like taking a ride with me today, Reilly?"
"What do you have in mind?" Last time Iíd taken a ride with Tony, it ended with him telling me to close my eyes because it would go easier for both of us. Thatís when I thought, nice gun.
"A little surprise. Come on Reilly, what else do you have going on in your life now?"
I had planned on riding my bike down the canal path to Princeton and back. A ride of over fifty miles that would have taken me all day and exhausted me for the rest of the weekend, but Tonyís offer intrigued me.
"Careful with the gray ones. Theyíre pretty unpredictable." Carlisle made a note in the racing form scrunched up in his hand. "I wonít normally bet on a gray one, but look at number seven. Thatís one magnificent beast."
We were at the saddling stable on the south end of Monmouth Park, right below the grandstand. Tonyís handicapping system required a trip to the stable between every race so he could see the horses before they were saddled up. Tony said the race was won back here; all the on-field excitement was just window dressing for the masses. It was just after the fifth race and with all the running between the clubhouse and the paddock I was getting almost as much exercise as Iíd originally planned.
"Look at number five, Tony. That one is dying to run," I said, pointing my rolled up form at a horse that had just attempted to kick the man fitting his saddle.
" Looks a little wild, Reilly. Iíll know better when I look in his eyes."
"You look into their eyes, Tony?"
"When he passes us on the way to the track. Handicapping a horse is just like handicapping a person. You can usually tell if theyíre a winner with a little eye contact and some casual conversation." I guess there were two ways to handicap a person and Iím sure Tony was proficient in both of them.
"You talk to the horses, too?"
"Tried it once but the midget on top of him thought I was talking to him, and I made him nervous. He jabbered something in some weird language and one of the racing officials asked me nicely if Iíd stop."
The horses walked past us into the paddock and the jockeys mounted. Tony looked into the eyes of number five and proclaimed him a lost cause. I should have listened to Tony when it came to horses. Heíd hit an exacta for $300 in the previous race. I placed a five-dollar bet on five, anyway.
"You know my business associate, Tullio ĎTrifectaí Mazzucco?"
"Heard the name but Iíve never met him. All this talk about associates could lead some people to believe you work in a Wall Mart."
Tony looked genuinely hurt. "Weíre not that corrupt. Tullio hit three trifectas in a row a couple of years back and heíd only fixed one of the races that day. That man knows his horses."
"Youíre not doing too bad yourself. You must be up nearly half a grand."
"Yeah, well, Iím kind of in the business. I own part of a horse. Inherited it from Uncle Sal. Forgot to change his will before the accident."
I was one of only two or three people alive who knew that Carlisle had put the first of a series of bullets into Sal ĎThe Grazerí Grazioli, but the knowledge that Carlisle had inherited part of a horse was new to me.
"Follow me, Reilly. I want to show you something."
Tony led me across the front of the Grandstand to the north end of the park where metal tables and benches were set up under umbrellas for picnics. Several areas were separated from the rest of the tables by low fences you could rent out for private parties. Tony led me up to one of them, and by the time I read the plaque indicating the name of the party using this one, it was too late.
"You should always turn the hamburgers over twice. That way you get a nice even cook throughout, and a nice chessboard pattern made by the grills," Tony said to the large man who was working behind a grill, his left side facing us.
The man was wearing an apron that said ĎState Troopers do it on the Pavement.í The utensils he held in hands that seemed to be the same color and texture of the meat, had handles designed to look like they should have been attached to screwdrivers. When he turned towards us I saw a look of disgust-tinged recognition in his weird two-toned eyes. One and half were brown and the bottom half of the right one was a milky bluish white.
"Tony ĎGQí Carlisle and private dick Reilly," Vernon Herczog said, emphasizing the second word in my job title. "Iíve been meaning to catch up with the two of you." He placed the utensils on a small fold out table next to the grill.
"I thought youíd be trying to catch up with your wife, but I suppose that could be pretty difficult. Sheís got pretty long legs and I heard theyíre anchored around some DEA agent in Washington DC," Tony said.
I read the sign attached to the outside of the fence and decided that this would be the most memorable of the eight consecutive New Jersey State Troopers Day with the Ponies.
Herczog took off the apron, folded it neatly and placed it on the table. He then walked calmly through the fence gate and punched Tony square in the face. He followed up with a shot to the gut, and Tonyís grunt of pain coincided with the sound of the horsesí jettison from the gate.
A couple of guys who must have been state troopers, judging from their crew cuts and neatly trimmed mustaches, hurried behind Herczog and pulled him off Tony. I helped him to his feet. He grinned at Herczog and said, "You just bought my lawyer a new BMW."
Herczogís partner, a very troubled man named Fisk, joined the growing crowd at the scene of the confrontation. He looked at me. "Too bad there werenít any witnesses to the alleged assault," he said, more to me than to Tony.
One of the trooperís wives handed Tony a fistful of napkins and Tony used them to staunch the delicate line of blood flowing from his right nostril. I steadied him as we walked away from the picnic area, towards his BMW in the grandstand parking lot, pausing only long enough to collect the money heíd won on his gray horse. Number five had been scratched right before the chutes opened.
Tony bribed the bartender twenty bucks to let him eat the vegetarian meal he had purchased at the health food restaurant around the Ďcornerí of the bar. Brannigans didnít really have corners. The building, and the bar in the middle of it, was shaped like a triangle; an arrow head pointed at the marina down the hill on the Navasink river.
The Navasink was running high because of the record rain of the last couple of months. The leaves along its banks were still green, with a stray premature yellow or red. The bartender had opened the door at one of the points of the triangle to let in the late afternoon sunshine. The bar had the slight moist earthy smell of a river locked city after a brief but intense thunderstorm. Red Bank fed Brannigans much of its business. The confluence of autumnal smells and the diffusion of light arching through the subtly cooling atmosphere alerted me to the change in season.
I was eating a hamburger, prepared on the grill located in the wide end of the triangle, and washing it down with a pint of bass. Tony sipped from a Coors light and made notes with a stylus on his hand held device. Normally Tonyís taste in drinks went to martinis and Courvoisier, but this wasnít the kind of place for either.
"What kind of health insurance does a man in your business have, Tony?"
"Iím an independent contractor. I have my own policy, and Iíve got to tell you, I pay. You wouldnít believe the premium; and the deductible is like five grand or something. Sometimes I think those commie countries like Canada have the right idea with their universal health care. Why are you asking?"
"I was born in the hospital right around the corner. Maybe you should check in and see if all of your synapses are still firing."
"Herczog didnít hit me that hard."
"Iím talking about the damage you had before we went to the track. Taunting a State Trooper in front of his buddies. What was that all about?"
"I just wanted to get his attention. Take a look at this baby." He handed me the electronic device he had been playing with. "Itís a Kyocera 7135. Itís like that communicator Kirk used on Star Trek, only better. Itís a cell phone. A palm pilot. A MP3 player. A web browser. A GPS tracking unit. If the vibrate mode was a little stronger I donít think Iíd need Rita anymore."
I toyed with it a few minutes. It had a full color screen that flipped up from its base, and cool antennae that telescoped out in three sections. I was impressed.
"My buddy Gino helped me pick it out a few days before he was killed. He had one just like it, and I knew I had to have one as soon as he showed it to me. That was right around the time Uncle Sal was going nuts. We joked that we would beam each other up if Sal went Klingon on one of us."
"Iím sorry about Gino. I never met him but the way you talk about him he must have been a nice guy." For a guy who had Ďthe Ventilatorí as a middle name.
"He was my best friend. And it wasnít Uncle Sal who killed him. It was that cocksucker Herczog."
"You sure about that, Tony?" I had suspected as much for several months, but I hadnít said anything.
"You and Herczog have a history together. I remember seeing him staked out in front of your crib that time I stayed. I know you hate him almost as much as I do."
To say Herczog and I had a history together was like saying General Custer and Sitting Bull had a history together. He had harassed me for a month, threatened to have my private investigation license revoked, and almost put the bar I was working in out of business. Herczog once picked up and pointed a gun at me that had been dropped by a career criminal named Groendyke. Groendyke had just shot a policeman who I was working with at the time, a man who had since become a friend of mine, Darnell Levy. Herczog and I had both assumed Darnell was dead, but, fortunately, he was wearing a Kevlar vest and just had the wind knocked out of him. Herczog put the gun back on the floor when he saw Darnell prop himself up, dazed and bruised. I still wonder if there would have been two bodies left on that construction site floor that day if Darnell had not been wearing a vest.
"Iíd love nothing more than to squeeze off a couple of rounds into him, but that could complicate business. Thatís why Iím hiring you to bring him down all legal like. What do you get, three hundred a day plus expenses, something like that?" He was reaching into his track-suit for his check book.
"Hold on, Tony. Iím not sure this is the case for me."
I wasnít really sure any case would be the one for me. I was on an extended leave from my cushy job as a telephone technician, trying to see if I really wanted to return to investigative work full time. My last case hadnít been too inspiring. In fact, it left me with a sickening feeling that just made my hangovers worse.
I had been hired by a small manufacturing company to track a couple of maintenance men suspected of pursuing extracurricular activities. The problem was that their time cards matched the hours they were supposed to be at work. Their supervisor couldnít figure out their little scam, so they called me in. I went in undercover as a new man on the maintenance team.
I was there a little over a week before I figured it out. The time clock had two stamps on it, one for the date and one for the time. When the maintenance guys went in Monday morning they covered up the date space on their time cards with adhesive tape so the only punch that would hit the card would be the time stamp. They would punch the times on the card for the entire week. They would do the same thing when they punched out after their shift. This way theyíd have a proper start and end time for the entire week with just one visit to the punch clock. Then they would cover the space for the time and punch the date every day whenever they decided to show up for work. That way they would have the proper day on the card to match the time. If they were ever questioned about the others absences they would say the missing man was out picking up supplies, and call him on his cell phone and heíd show up a few minutes later with some part he had picked up on his way from back.
I spent a week tailing them, taking pictures of their activities on their rotating days off. One guy spent most of his time at a bar on French Street in New Brunswick. The other spent his days reading history books at the New Brunswick Public Library.
I received $4000 dollars and some expense money for film and gas for my efforts, and the two men were given the opportunity to resign.
"Youíve got to do this for me, you owe me, and Iím calling in my marker."
He had me. During my first case after a six-year hiatus I had made a very dangerous enemy. Groendyke had held a grudge against the father of an ex girlfriend. I had foolishly tried to apprehend him on my own. I had been unsuccessful and he had sworn revenge. I chased him for the better part of a month, catching up with him four times. We exchanged gunfire and punches, and each time he had gotten the better of me. I just about gave up after he shot my cop friend Darnel, but Tony caught up with him first try, delivered him to me shrink wrapped like the remains of a sandwich being thrown into the garbage, sealed in the package that had preserved it.
I was about to agree to take the case when my cell phone rang. I answered it and heard an unfamiliar womanís voice.
"Who is this?" She sounded both annoyed and surprised.
"Reilly. Who is this?"
"My name is Donna. Is this your cell phone?"
"Yeah, itís my cell phone. Do I know you?"
"How do you spell your name?"
I spelled it out to her, a decision I am still regretting.
"Does anyone else have access to your cell phone?"
"Have you been leaving hang up messages on my phone?" I had around fifteen over the last two days.
"Either you or someone who had access to your phone called me at two oíclock in the morning two nights ago, and left me a message. It wasnít a clear message and whoever it was didnít leave a name. I want to know who it was."
"Iíve got no idea what your talking about Donna, I didnít call you. I donít even know who you are."
"I want to know who woke me up at two oíclock in the fucking morning and left that message."
"The message, was it threatening?"
"I donít know. I could hardly make it out. It sounded like the caller was drunk. It didnít sound like your voice, but Iím not sure. I want to know who called me, goddamn it, and I want to know now so I can get my boyfriend to kick his ass."
"I canít imagine anyone wanting to call you at any time, sober or drunk. Iíd appreciate it if you would stop calling me."
"Iím holding you responsible, Reilly, and Iím calling this number five times a day until I find out who left me that message. And if I donít find out who left it, Iím going to let my boyfriend assume it was you, and heíll pay you a visit."
"Send him over. Iím 6í5 and weigh 230 lbs, and the last time I lost a fight was never." I hung up on her.
"She sounds absolutely charming. Can I have her number?" Carlisle asked.
I had stopped in a nearly empty Court Tavern at 7:00 two nights ago with a meatball sub on garlic bread purchased from the Italian take out place next to the bar. I sat down three stools away from a guy I didnít notice at first. I had never seen him dressed in anything other than a green industrial jump suit with his name stitched on his left pocket. It was one of the maintenance guys I had gotten fired. Surprisingly, it wasnít the juicer; it was the reader.
I could tell by the way he didnít assault me that the company hadnít told him who his Judas was, and he hadnít figured it out himself. I bought him a round out of guilt. Then I bought him a round out of interest, because he seemed to know his history. Then I bought him a round because my wallet was still fat from turning him in. Then I bought him a round because it seemed like we could use another. At some point a couple of my buddies, regulars, came in, and I bought them a round for reasons I couldnít quite remember. An off duty bartender, who I was friends with, came in, and bought us a round because he didnít have to pay for it.
I woke up on the floor in the attic too hung over to attempt to quell the snores from the person sleeping in the bed set up there. It was just before dawn, and it was the first time I had blacked out in nearly six years. The light was on and I emptied the contents of my shoe which was standing upright on the floor next to me: wallet, keys, Swiss Army knife, two bottle caps from a brand I didnít drink, a couple of rolled up bills and a small fistful of change. Everything but my cell phone.
I used the phone on the desk to dial my number, but didnít hear anything ring. I stumbled down the stairs, and used the phone behind the bar, and this time I heard it. I tracked the sound down to the back bar, where my phone was sitting amongst a phalanx of empty beer bottles the night bartender had neglected to clean up.
I turned it off, shoved it in my pocket, and went back up the stairs and confirmed that the man sleeping in the bed was my buddy Leyner, who had been working behind the bar that night, before I turned off the light and went back to sleep on the floor.
For most of the rest of the day, I just laid there in the attic, trying to fight off the bizarre sexual fantasies that plagued me when I was in this advanced stage of alcohol poisoning. I finally left around six and went immediately to my toilet to throw up the pizza slice I had eaten on my way home from the bar, and crawl back into bed for an eight hour marathon session of hangover soothing television.
When I finally turned my cell phone on, I had accumulated most of the hang up messages.
"Youíve got me, Tony. I know the Irish arenít well known for honor and crap like that, but I owe you. Iíll look into it for a least a week," I said. "Do you have any information for me?"
The phone rang again before Tony could answer. I picked it up without checking the incoming number.
"Did you find out who made that call?" Donna asked, sounding more pissed off than the last time I talked to her, ten seconds ago.
"I thought I hung up on you."
"Listen asshole, youíd better find out who made that goddamn call. Iím holding you responsible. Iíll give you ten minutes to make a few calls then Iím calling back and youíd better have a name for me."
I turned the phone off.
Copyright© 2004 Patrick J. Lambe