A story about a detective who is clueless about his own situation.
He wasn't one of them.
You know the kind. They're propped up on elbows at the end of the bar, maybe sewn or glued onto a stool in a state of slow motion collapse just shy of suspended animation. They never sit totally motionless, moved in small degrees by some unseen puppet master. Long ago, life stuck an arm down their throat, grabbed their balls and ripped them out by the roots. They're stretched so thin you can almost see through them, clothes on a bone rack. Every smile mirthless, any laughter dying in a phlegmy fit of coughing. Drinking and smoking until the day cancer, cirrhosis or a chest grabber empties the stool for the next scarecrow.
And there's always another scarecrow.
The stranger sat there because he could take in the whole bar from that spot. A beer cooler in front of him would stop or at least slow up any lead poisoning winging his way. A washroom was to his right and he had made sure it had no windows before he sat down. The barkeep, Malloy, assured him no one was in the stock room. The stranger checked anyway. The stock room was behind him, but the door opened so that if anyone came through it, he could take aim before they could get eyes on him.
The stranger was there to meet someone.
Me? I was there to puzzle out my future.
She blew in from some corn-fed, prairie paradise like all the others did. Wanted to be a dancer, just like all the others did. Not enough money to make it to LA or Vegas so she came to Chicago. Three years of high school musicals and a summer stock theater play was the hot air in her balloon.
Marnie was a sweet kid. She mistakenly thought her talented long legs that stretched all the way up to Heaven, fresh good looks and work ethic would take her to the top. But in ten months, the only offers she got were for horizontal mambos on casting couches.
The weasels who give slime a bad name are always waiting for these prairie pearls. Weasels are always long on promises and short on delivery. Seems giving it her "all" was something she wasn't willing to do. Seems she'd made herself some sort of pledge. She already knew a couple women who had been rode hard and put away sweaty. Knew she had to live with herself for a lot of years.
It's easier to pretend than care.
The whole world is drowning in tears and I'm the only one with a life boat. I knew better than to get involved when I saw her crying in that diner, but I'm a cop. They pay me to investigate tears. I listened as her tears washed down the concrete fade I show to those on the other side of my badge.
So sue me, I had an extra bedroom, said she could spend the night. Right after I paid for her meal. She couldn't afford the bus fare home if she ate. Her luggage? Yeah, I carried it upstairs.
Next morning she asked, "Charley, you've been awesome. Maybe you could let me look for work for a couple days so I wouldn't have to go home broke. I can probably find something. Meantime, how 'bout I cook and clean for you. Whaddya say?"
"Long as it's only a couple days," I answered. Don't ask me why I gave her a key.
A couple days later I heard, "Charley, I got a job! I'm the assistant to the executive secretary."
"That's swell kid. I'll miss ya'. Best of luck."
"Would it be okay if I stayed a couple extra days? You know, like 'til I get my first paycheck?"
Only a drillrod answers, "Yes" before finding out if the paychecks are weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. That was over a year ago.
One night I came home from a bad day's work.
"Oh my God! Charley, what happened?!"
"Some jamoke tried to bite off my ear."
"Shut up! You gotta be kidding me!"
"Wish I was. The medics gave me a shot of penicillin and twelve stitches as a lovely parting gift for my "Close Encounters of The Worst Kind."
I felt my eye swelling up. Tomorrow it would look like he'd painted a black and blood-shot bulls-eye where he bounced knuckles off my skull before my partner got the juice on the Taser turned up high enough to fry the circuits of someone on Angel Dust.
She was so scared for me it was positively cute. She fluttered around like some sort of healing pixie. Marnie tried to take away my pain, tried to make me whole, make me better. I was sincerely touched. Maybe it was the Vicodin, but before I knew what was happening, I was on her casting couch. Medical science has yet to quantify how much healing can occur when close to seventy-six inches of expertly applied legs are wrapped around your torso. Repeatedly.
We began spending evenings together. I bought a new mattress. Yeah, it was a queen.
Last Christmas, Marnie hinted maybe I could take her home so she could see her parents and I could meet them. I worked some extra shifts for a buddy having a kid. On St. Valentine's Day, I was stuck doing paperwork until our restaurant reservations were given away. She had to take a cab home. Alone.
I list "detective" as my profession on tax returns. Maybe I should check the exemption for "blind."
Tom Waits would say 'she was sharp as a razor and soft as a prayer.' Earlier tonight I heard someone saying,
"Charley, a girl's gotta know what her options are, don't you think? He's been a gentleman 'cause he knows you're in the picture. It isn't like I've been skanking around. But I gotta' know. Maybe you could let me know if we got a future, huh Charley?"
Funny, I couldn't recall the date she moved in with me. She did. Called it our anniversary. Funnier, I didn't see it was what it turned into. I'd been comfortably numb, but I hadn't considered her feelings. Or her needs.
I had to understand. I had to make a decision. So I procrastinated.
My neighborhood was shaken down for all its spare change a long time ago. It looks it. Rents are cheap, anonymity guaranteed if you prefer. You can be a shadow or a scarecrow without breaking a sweat.
I found myself outside Kevin Malloy's joint. It was close enough to my place that I could use my cufflinks for curb feelers on the crawl home. Four steps down to the landing where they kept the trash cans for what was once a "garden" apartment. Another four steps and opening a door delivered me to ground zero.
Bar was on the left. On the right, two pool tables and a couple tables filled with empty beer bottles and full ashtrays, against the far wall four booths. What had been the greasers of the fifties and sixties, the bikers of the seventies and eighties had morphed into the millenial iteration of society's ghouls. They cover their skin with illiterate tattoos, jam metal hoops and pins into their faces, fill their heads with street drugs and bellies with rotgut booze instead of food. Except for a couple rotten teeth, they got nothing left to lose but consciousness.
The air was a mix of stale beer and sweat sauteed in nicotine. A steady stream of meaningless, conversational profanity grated and grumbled just below the decibel level of a jukebox that still hadn't caught up with rap, thanks be to God and Malloy. Bob Seeger was "Down on Main St." I was just down.
The first time I came home and found flowers in a vase on my table, left me profoundly bewildered, speechless. It probably came off as cold.
In her tiniest gamine voice, she said,"It's our sixth month anniversary, Charley."
The vibrant colors were a splash of life in my drab bachelor pad. It was a startling change that seemed like some kind of jamais vu, a vision of one possible future. I wasn't afraid of her or anniversaries. I'd been a professional bachelor, pretty good at being a self-centered SOB. I just didn't know if I had enough energy. It ain't easy to flip the switch from paranoid warrior on the "thin blue line" back to human being. Or, harder still, being human.
And then someone goes and puts flowers on my kitchen table, snuggles up to me on my couch, laughs at my jokes, buys me little presents for no reason. Suddenly, I wasn't watching the film of my life. I couldn't be just an actor spouting lines someone else wrote for him. I had to be the writer. I had to be the director.
When he walked in, I was into my second "Scotch, double, rocks." Like I said, the stranger checked his perimeter. He was wearing gloves and he wasn't Michael Jackson. No fingerprints. He took out a cell phone and called someone. Then he ordered a glass of "seltzer, squeeze of lime," and tossed a Jackson on the counter. Malloy brought him his drink and change. The stranger didn't make a move to pick up either.
It took me a couple minutes before I recognized him. He worked homicide over at the Two Seven on the south side. Tough kid, grew up in the Cabrini-Green housing project while it still had some "diversity." He was the last white guy to run the final leg of the two hundred yard relay at Cooley High. I remember a beat cop saying if he hadn't known it was a race, he'd have arrested the three black guys chasing him.
"Garrity, isn't it?" I opened my sport coat so he could catch a glimpse of the badge.
"Evening, Detective. What can I do for ya'."
"Seems you're expecting someone. Let me know if the police can be of any assistance."
"Nothing good is gonna' come out of this." He said it with a vacant stare. A second later he snapped out of it. "You want to help? Stay out of it."
He had been a rising star in the department. He asked a girl to wait while he climbed the ladder. She got tired of waiting, left him and went out to Vegas. She wound up arm jewelry for some Mafia Don. One night, out of the blue, she called Garrity. She was scared, had made a mistake, could he help her?
Garrity flew out to Vegas, brought her back. He kept her under wraps while his Captain tried to get her into a witness protection program. He wanted to go in with her. Said he wanted to marry her.
The Feds were going to pump her about how the casinos were laundering money. The Federal District Attorney put out that Garrity was strictly second hand, heresay info. They weren't married and there was no obligation as far as the DA was concerned.
The DA was filthy, mobbed up, dirtier than a Gary steel mill. Some snitch that blabbed to Garrity about the DA's ties to the mob wound up in a load of scrap metal in a mill on the south side.
Garrity knew if she went in without him, she wasn't going to make it. Sooner or later they would find her and put her down like a rabid bitch.
Garrity didn't accuse the District Attorney of being on the take, just insisted that he be replaced before he surrendered her. The implication could not have been shouted any louder if he used the PA at Soldier Field during half time at a Bear's game. So when Garrity took a poke at a Federal District Attorney and scrapped with the half dozen US Marshalls required to "pacify" him, he made sure everyone in the building knew what was going on. Now if she wound up dead, a lot of questions would have to be asked.
Garrity wanted to make sure those questions never got asked.
He refused to back off when someone told him to forget the woman he loved because 'an affair with a cop would taint her testimony as a witness.' It was the only card he had left to play.
It was not a career enhancing move. He got busted down in rank. Now, word on the street was a contract had been let. Word was the contract was on Garrity's woman.
I nodded to him and went back to my drink. It didn't take long.
Johnny Fazione must have bought everything he wore from the Joe Pesci collection. His smug, arrogant smirk begged you to hammer a fist into his teeth. His tailored suit cost more than I took home in a month, probably a couple months.
Johnny didn't waste time on the skid marks shooting pool, just strutted back to Garrity. I couldn't hear what they said, but I watched Johnny speaking Italian "wit' bot' hands" in the bar back mirror. Finally, Johnny leaned over and gobbed into Garrity's untouched drink.
Had to be the principle of the thing. Garrity grabbed Johnny's tie with his right hand, yanked down real hard, picked Johnny's head up by the hair. Did it three times, good thing the bar was there to break the fall of Johnny's face. I don't know if that put out Johnny lights, but Garrity followed it up with a short, wicked left just to make sure.
Garrity quickly frisked Johnny, found a forty-five and slid it into his pocket. Then he clapped Johnny's fedora on his head. He slid an arm under Johnny's arms. I held the door open for them as the skid marks watched, silently, uncertain of what they may have just seen. Garrity held up Johnny like some long lost friend. He half dragged him up the stairs. I closed the door behind him, walked back to my drink.
Out in the street, someone turned on a strobe light, lit a string of firecrackers. The pops from thirty eights were interrupted by the savage barking of a forty-five and the strident crescendos of glass shattering. Then, the street went quiet as the inside of a coffin.
The mooks started toward the door. I took the Glock out of my shoulder harness and shook my head "no." One of these mooks might drunkenly stumble into the path of a slug or see something that could get him killed. Mooks might not pay taxes, but they've got rights. After all, I'm sworn to serve and protect.
It was another two minutes before I walked out. Fazione lay in the street. Johnny was never going to get off the street unless it was on a stretcher. They'd have to bury him in a different suit, not the one that had failed to stop five slugs.
Inside the car parked next to Johnny, two dead men clutched guns they were never going to shoot again. I'd be willing to bet, the slugs in Johnny are a ballistics match with the dead men's thirty-eights. I'll double down and bet your mother's life that the slugs in the other two victims match a forty-five found in Johnny Fazione's hand.
I walked up and down the street, a fifty-foot radius around the car. No blood splatter. I found myself smiling as I walked back to Malloy's.
"Malloy, there's been an accident. Do me a favor and call it in? Don't let them know I'm here, okay?" I motioned with my head toward the mooks. "Keep them down here long as you can." I gave Malloy forty bucks for a couple rounds knowing mook priorities for what they were.
I didn't want mooks stealing guns or fouling evidence. Waiting around a corner, I kept an eye on the car as the sirens got closer. When the squad car cut the sirens and the patrolmen and detectives were at the scene, I strolled out holding up my shield.
"Detective Harrigan, somethin' happen here?" I asked.
I hate paperwork. Let the guys on-duty do it.
Paperwork was not going to cost me another chance to make things right by her.
Someone showed me what 'willing to take a bullet' really means. Life's a crapshoot. There's no such thing as a sure bet. Step up, give it your best shot and the chips are going to fall where they may.
Don't wait, it's too short, make life happen. Scarecrows don't have a choice. When I looked into the mirror at Malloy's, I didn't see any scarecrows. I want to keep it that way.