Cripes, it was cold. Toolbag was shriveled up to nothin'. Damn longjohns had more holes than Bonnie and Clyde's Chevy. Or was it a Ford? Not that it matters. Sure as hell doesn't matter to them. Either way, they're probably warmer than me right now. Early Spring frost. Breathed into my cupped hands.....Back-blast from my breath made my head swim. Tobacco. Stale coffee. Fuzzy thing that used to be an eggroll I found behind the toilet. Bad combination.. Shoulda splurged on some toothpaste yesterday instead of the anniversary issue of Throb!. Shrugged. Ran a hand through my hair and scratched behind my ear.
Texas moon hung low. Tipped my fedora and smiled at my old friend. Love this time of night. Nobody left in the streets but the dregs. The rabble. The night people. My people. They passed at irregular intervals. Some, heads lowered, lost in the depression of their lives. Their own problems occupying their thoughts. Others moved more briskly. Braced against the cold, a purpose to their steps. A destination in their sights.....Or anxiuos to put some distance between themselves and whatever unpleasantness they may have left behind. Others still, smiled slightly, or nodded in mild recognition at the shadowy apparition I presented. My people. My town.
Sunk deeper in the doorway. Told myself it was to combat the wind. I knew better. Fact is, I embraced the shadows. The darkness. Can hide from anything in the dark. Except yourself. Would drive most people crazy being lost in themselves. Bein' trapped in their own mind. With their own demons. Me, I'm comfortable with mine. Well, most of 'em. We have an understandin'. I feed their desires and they feed mine. Except for a few minor incidents, we've co-existed peacefully enough. Minor incidents. Funny. That week in Brazil comes to mind. Found out why they're called howler monkeys. Frisky little mugs.
Rubbed the peppered stubble on my chin and sighed as I glared at the building across the street. Last time I stood here my hair was less grey.....Eyes were less bloodshot.....Shoulders were less stooped.....Blood was less than 100 proof.....Shrugged. Damn, it's been a while.
Too much rhetoric, Diamond. You're stallin'. Ran a hand through my hair and scratched behind my ear. I'm actin' like a nancy. One foot in front of the other, ya mook.
"Long time, Dick." Short, broad-shouldered man with a stoic expression extended his hand. Was the first to greet me as I entered the precinct. Detective Mike Sullivan. Could stick five billiard balls in his mouth at once. Won some serious scratch in a few dives with that little trick.
"Mike." Took his hand, wincin'. "Damn, flatfoot. Still got a grip like a Wisconsin milkin' machine, I see."
"And you still dress like a bum.," he sneared. "Speakin' of milking machines.....Your Ma hit one million served yet?"
"Yep. Back in February. 'Bout a week after your sister."
Sullivan's confrontational expression slowly split into a wide, friendly grin. "Damn, it's good to see ya," grabbin' my shoulders.
"You too, pal," I smiled. It was. Returned the embrace. Mike Sullivan was a paradox. Could stop a bus with a right hook one minute, and get all misty watchin' Johnny Quest reruns the next......Had a soft spot for Bandit. Was a stand-up guy. Honest. To the point. Never had to guess what he was thinkin'. I respected him a lot. He was a good friend.
Sullivan rubbed his chin. "You look, Uh.....fit." Wasn't very convincin'. "How ya been?"
"Oh, still pluggin' away, I guess." Rubbed my neck. "You?"
"Pickin' em up and puttin'em down."
"Your old lady still sore at me?" I asked sheepishly.
"What do you think, jocko?"
"Marcy always was one to hold a grudge."
"You got her mother drunk," Mike recapped, "and entered her in a wet T-shirt contest at Capt. Lou's Jiggly Hut....."
"The old gal won, didn't she?" I defended myself.
".....then the two of ya disappeared for three days," my old friend continued, as if I hadn't interrupted.
"We were celebratin' her victory."
"She still hasn't walked right since then, ya know."
"Me, either," I groaned, kneadin' my thigh. "The bird did a number on me, too. Was a classy broad, though. Wish I could remember her name."
"You're a degenerate, Dick." Mike smiled. "Damn, It's good to see ya."
"Feelin's mutual, pal....."
"I'll be damned." A voice like a sack of gravel bein' dragged over a washboard rang out behind me. Felt my colon tighten in recognition. "Look what crawled under the door," it croaked.
Didn't have to turn around. The creak of the floor.....The pungent marriage of Aqua Velva and spoiled tuna salad.....The squish of sweaty flesh rubbin' against even sweatier flesh.....Fought a stream of rapidly risin' bile.
"Stan Bronski," I said as I slowly spun to face him. Immediately wish I hadn't. A greasy comb-over and 1970's pornstar mustache did little to compliment his bulk. Was big enough to have other fat guys orbitin' around him. Exactly like I remembered him. Pity.
"Detective Stan Bronski", he corrected with a sneer of satisfaction.
"Nothin's changed, eh, Diamond?" Bronski spat. "Still a wise-ass after all these years. Didn't losin' yer badge teach ya nothin'?"
"Sure, pudge," I said. "It taught me you'll eat anything stuffed inside a kinnish."
"Never stops with you, does it?" the fat man growled. "The jabs.....the insults.....But that pie-hole finally got ya the boot, didn't it?"
"I thought I got canned 'cause of my drinkin'."
"Gettin' caught wearin' the Captain's wife like a hat didn't help, either," Sullivan chimed in, smirkin'.
Grinned at the memory. "She was a good kid. Very enthusiastic, " I recalled.
Bronski shook his head. "Jokin' about losin' your badge? Don't you have any self-respect?"
"I did once, Moby," I answered. "But you ate it."
The large man took a threatenin' step forward, round face red with anger. Sullivan quickly moved between us. "Alright guys, take a break," Mike said. "Stan, why don't you clock out. Shift's over anyway."
"Yeah, chunks," I added. "It's after ten.....Shouldn't you be home disappointin' the wife?"
Bronski poked his chubby finger in my face. "If you and Mike weren't so tight, I'd wipe the floor with ya!"
"Wash your hands, Oprah. You got a ham stuck under your fingernail."
Detective Stan Bronski grabbed his jacket and stormed out the door, knockin' over a few chairs on the way. Mook.
"Why you gotta give Stan a hard time, Dick?" Mike asked. "He's a good cop."
"He's a puddin' pop with a badge," I snorted.
"Still, that crack about his wife was low. Even for you."
"She's gone, man. She left him a year ago."
"Oh. Didn't know." Ran a hand through my hair and scratched behind my ear. "You got her number?"
"Can't imagine what it's like inside your head, Dick," Mike rolled his eyes.
"It'll shrivel your sphincter, cuddles."
My old friend led me to the holdin' cells. "Appreciate you keepin' this under your hat, pal."
"No problem," Sullivan nodded. "I know how to return a favor. You covered my ass more than once."
"Literally, if I remember right," slappin' Mike on the back. "What was that gal's name? Liz.....Lisa.....?"
"I was close."
Mike laughed. "At least my mistakes were women."
"Did ya forget about Tammy Two-Times?"
Shrugged. "She was a dame from the waist up. Sometimes that's all ya need."
Stopped in front of the cells. Saw him immediately. Curled up in the corner.....Mutterin' to himself.....Eyes dartin' back and forth.....Hands scraped raw from clawin' at the walls. John Mara. President and CEO of the New York Giants. Didn't look very presidential to me. Obvious exceptions aside, of course.
"Damn." Covered my nose. Hadn't smelled anything that bad since I took Ma to her gynecologist. "How long's he been in there?"
"Couple a hours," Sullivan answered. "Since right before I called you. Found him in a dumpster behind that German dive on 5th." Adlebert's Black Forrest Cuisine. Just say nein, kids.
"Thought I smelled rotten strudel."
"Plus, he hurled on himself in the backseat of the prowler on the way over here."
"Yep," I nodded. "Knew I recognized the cologne." Been my scent since I figured out how to work a cork. Around the same time I realized Big Bird was just a regular joe with an effeminate voice. Six was a tough age.
"Figured you might be able to get some mileage outta the situation, Dick," Mike explained. "Given your connections and all."
Ran a hand through my hair and scratched behind my ear. "I just might, buddy. I just might." The possibilities made me light-headed. Or maybe that was Mara. Chripes, he smelled worse than a dead skunk in a bag of stale Cheetos. "Course, it would help if I knew what the hell happened. You get anything outta him?"
"Enough to piece together a few things," Mike grinned. "He's in town on some sorta business. Got hammered at the hotel bar. Couldn't stir up any action there, so mister personality here went cruisin'."
"Struck out in a hotel bar, huh? Well, with a face like that....."
Mike snickered. "You'll get a kick outta this.....On his little escapade, he picked up Albino Belle."
"Albino Belle?" Shook my head. "And he lived?"
"Barely. After their little dance in his rental car, he tried skippin' without payin'." Mike was havin' problems talkin' between belly laughs. Gotta admit, I was nearly rollin' myself. "She did what Belle does. Beat the sap silly and stole his car. Not before stashin' him in the dumpster, of course."
"Oh, of course." Belle used to be the West Texas arm wrestlin' champ. In the men's division. Was forced into retirement after breakin' three arms.....At the same time. Bit of an anger issue, but a smart cookie. Make no mistake, Belle worked the streets 'cause it's what she wanted to do. Good dough. Her own boss. That kinda thing. "Got her in here, as well, I'm guessin'?"
"Yeah," Sullivan nodded. "But it took half a squad to corral her." Takes a lot of guys to outnumber Belle.
"I'll make a call." Owed her one. Owed her two, actually. Smiled. Forgot about that Halloween party at Skitch's a few years back. She gave a whole new meaning to bobbin' for apples.
"Well, Dick," Mike rubbed the tears from his eyes. "What do you wanna do with this guy?"
"Anybody else know who we got here?"
"You, me and a couple of friendlies."
Nodded. "Why don'tcha clear a path out the back for us. See if we can't get chuckles outta here with his reputation still in tact."
"You're call, man. Sure you know what you're doin'?"
"Yeah, pal. I'm sure." Took my old friend's hand and slapped his shoulder. "Thanks, Mike. I owe ya one."
"I'll put it on the list with the rest of 'em," Sullivan laughed over his shoulder as he walked off.
Watched him go and sighed. Just like old times.
As my friend disappeared from sight, I turned my attention to Mr. Mara. "Alone at last, eh, scooter?" Opened the door to his cell and walked over to him. "C'mon, on your feet, sparky. Can you stand?"
"I'm drunk, not crippled," the CEO slurred. Shakily leaned on a wall as he found his feet. "See?"
"Yeah, puddin'. You're a rock," I quipped.
The disheveled man squinted at me through bloodshot slits. "Who're you?" he grumbled.
"For our purposes, you can call me Tom Hagen."
"Tom Hagen, sport." Blank stare. "Didn't you see The Godfather 2"
"Wonderful." Rubbed my hands together. "Well, Senator Geary, we don't have a lot of time, so I'll fill you in on the move."
"Where we goin', Hagen?"
Chuckled. "Gonna get you cleaned up. A mutual friend, and NFL owner, will send a car for you in the morning. Til then, we're gonna lay low in a little outta the way place I know."
Mara belched.....And turned a funky shade of green. "Don't feel so good," he moaned.
"We'll get ya fixed up. Have you in the pink before ya know it." Put my arm around his shoulders as we wobbled outtta the cell. "A little hair-a-the-dog does wonders."
"Outta the way place, huh?" Mara garbled.
"You'll love it, slick. Classy atmosphere. Decent eats. Plenty of appealin' company." Mara perked up a bit. "It's called Capt. Lou's."
"Plenty of clams, if you're inclined." My pungent companion nodded.
Amateur night at the Jiggly Hut always brought out the finest sorts. Haven't missed one since.....Hell, since I don't know when. Same old jokes. Same old stories.....Familiar faces. Comfortin' to know you belong somewhere. Anywhere. Even a worthless mook like me has a place to go when the demons come callin'. It all evens out in the end. We run with what we're given and hope for the best. Ran a hand through my hair and scratched behind my ear.
Couldn't help but wonder, though, as we slipped into the dark, Texas night. What's my new pal here gonna look like in a wet T-shirt?