~ Pt. V~


There was this hooker I knew, once, back in Chi-Town. She was good for inside info if I needed to do some digging on the people you shouldn't ever get too close to... if you get what I mean.

So every so often she'd slip me some info, and I'd slip her some cash so she could keep her pimp from going to town on her if she'd had a bad night. Maybe a little extra if I was lonely. Man's got to have some fun, once in a while.

Anyway... one night - while she was still alive, right? - we got to talking. This was after we'd traded cash for circumstances, and we were just shooting the breeze.

And I just had to ask - how do you do it? How can you stand to go down on the scumbags your man hooks you up with? I mean, I'm no looker, myself, but there's a reason some of these these wiseguys gotta pay for it. Between the flab, the fur, the lousy pillow talk and the garlic belches it's a wonder they even got wives.

Well, she smiled me that smile of hers, and she said 'you just gotta keep telling yourself "they pay you, but they don't own you. It's just a job. Do it, take the money and go."'

Yeah... some job. One night your boss finds out you're holding back because you've been riding the horse, so decides he wants to fire you. He cuddles up to you like he wants some free action, and then he whips out his switchblade and cuts you open from your tits to your cunt. Suddenly you're bleeding out in an apartment you'd never be able to afford with what you get to keep, dying on a bearskin rug.

And he's standing over by the door, talking to some other creep on his cellphone, laughing about the noise in the background. 'Jus' teachin' the bitch a lesson, Rocco...'

Pretty bad, yeah. Some people never figure out the shit they're in 'till they're gagging on it. And then it's too late.

Too late...


Well, that's what she told me, after it was all over. I wasn't there, so I don't know. Maybe she lied. Maybe she just O.D.ed. Who knows.

But what she said about taking it and getting gone... that's what was going through my head while I was reading that fucking photo.

I kept going over and over it, there at my desk, having the occasional swig to keep me rooted to the ground. Either that or keep me from getting the shakes, again. Maybe both.

I wasn't so sure what these guys were gonna want from me. The way they talked, they figured they had me by the balls. They obviously knew what had happened in that house, that night. And they weren't too shy about letting me know they knew, either...

But did that mean they were directly involved? Or was there something else going on here? Something even larger?

That's what I was starting to figure. And back then - before I knew any better - 'larger' meant those guys you couldn't get close to. You got what I meant, earlier... right?

Yeah, the local. Who else? I mean, if someone's gonna bust your door and leave six Franklins in an envelope for it, then they've either got too much money or a really weird sense of humor. And I knew enough about how those folks operated in town to know that both could be used to describe them to a T.

So I took another swig, looked at the note again, and I figured that I'd pissed them off, somehow. Maybe they'd had a finger in that hidden money, and I'd gone and messed it up for them, somehow. Maybe Ralph had been working for them, or against them... or whatever.

You never really know until they tell you. But then you're still not really sure they're telling you the truth, either. Proof's in the punchline...

Hey, don't start with that old pro shit again, okay? Who do you think owns this city? Who do you think owns this place, for that matter?

It don't matter who you are, or what you do. They're there, they're serious and the best thing you can do is stay the fuck out of their way. You get in their way, then you either get the fuck out of it or they get you the fuck out of it, and sometimes they're not too pretty about it.

So when they're nice enough to offer you a deal instead of a pair of concrete boots, or two to the head, or whatever... you just take it.


Yeah, you're right - this wouldn't have been my first run-in with the local, either here or back in Chi-Town. Public or private, you can't work any angles without running into them, sooner or later. You just make your peace with it, do your best to work around it and life goes on.

Worried? Well, yeah... but no. In some ways it was a relief, too...

Oh, come on. Use your fucking head. I mean, they could have found me on the street anytime before now, right? There was no need to go to all this trouble if they just wanted to smack me over the head, shove me in a car, and drive it into the Sound.

I mean, here they were, giving me a decent invite to someplace classy, for Chrissakes. They had to know that I might tell all kinds of people I was heading that way. If I didn't come back, there'd be heat on their ass.

And if there's one thing you can figure about the local, it's that even if they can buy their way out of that heat, they'd really rather stay under the radar as much as possible. The less you have to explain or apologize for, the better.

So I figured that maybe this was gonna be the first warning. I'd go there, get felt up by two gorillas in pinstripes and meet with some disinterested, low-level middle manager in a back room. He'd tell me I stepped in something I shouldn't have, impress me with his knowledge of my daily routine, try to make me shit myself.

And then he'd slip me some cash and tell me to back out and fuck off - or else - and that'd be that.

Right. Just like the gal said: 'Do it, take the money and go...'


Yeah. Except.

Except I was never too good at letting go. Except I still wanted to know what was in that fucking ledger.

Except I was enough of a horse's ass to figure I could still play a few cards and find out what was going on, local or no.

Pretty dumb, huh? They say there's nothing more dumb than a dumb guy who thinks he's being smart when he's just being dumb.

I guess you get a lot of that, here, too, huh?

So - my dinner at Fülöp's...

Oh, yeah. I paid off the super. He was waiting for me to come into his office, and he wasn't happy. Of course, he never is - especially when the rent's due.

But... well, you gotta feel sorry for him. Face like his, I think yelling at his customers is the only regular action he gets, you know?

'Who's gonna fuckin' pay for the door, huh?' he said: 'What the fuck? I don't need no glass all over my fuckin' hallway, Harry! You forget your keys after hours, you just call a lock shop like everyone else!'

So I ask him how much it's gonna be to fix it. He says three hundred, and I give him four right then and there. That shut him up, almost like a light switch.

'I'm gonna be out of town, tonight,' I told him: 'Up at that Fülöp's place. Anyone else wants to come see me tonight, after hours, maybe you could find another night watchman?'

Yeah, those two pieces of info didn't have nothing to do with one another. It's what you call a non-sequitur, right? But, see, people remember that kind of thing, and I could count on him remembering about Fülöp's because the second bit sure as hell pissed him off.

I let him yell for a while. I guess he really had thought about how much it was gonna cost to get a new one, because he told me all about it. Right down to the pennies and dimes.

I let him go on until he was done, then I said I'd make sure he got the rent on time - because he always mentions that when he's yelling at me - and I went back upstairs to wait until it got close to time, and got dressed for dinner.

Yeah - coat, tie and all. Fülöp's is... well, it was a swanky joint. Nothing there now. I guess that's somewhere in your notes, too?

Figured as much. Kind of a shame. It was a pretty classy joint, as far as those kinds of places go. Stuck up on a bluff overlooking the Sound, maybe three inches from falling in.

Yeah, now we know why. I figured insurance, myself. Either that or someone really liked heights and sheer drops. You get a table by the window you can see all the way down, and it's quite a drop...


So I got my suit on for the night. I made sure I had a few of my usual failsafes on me, since I couldn't pack my piece. You know... pen and paper, small pocketknife, spare change. I'd have brought my pocket recorder, but I figured that'd be really pushing it.

Right about half-past Seven I went downstairs, got a taxi and told the driver to take me out to the place. I didn't tell the guy to run any lights doing it...

Well, yeah... they said Eight, sharp, but I figured I could be a little early or a little late. It's not like they were going to turn me away if they wanted to fuck me, right? They don't respect people who look too nervous and too scared, so a few minutes either way would just add to the charm.

Anyway, Fülöp's - it was really out there. You had to go past the city sprawl to get to it, and then it was a few more miles on top of that. They said you could see all the way to Vancouver from the main dining room on a good night, but that's gotta be bullshit. Probably just harbor lights, a few martinis and a lot of wishful thinking...

But yeah, it was quite a ways away. And that made it nice and private. Perfect place to do local business, or so I thought at the time...

The drive? It was nothing really too spectacular. The guy behind the wheel wouldn't shut up about the Seahawks. Someone tried to cut in front of us, and I learned how to say 'look where you're going, motherfucker' in a foreign language. Then he tried to tell me a dumb joke. You know, the usual stuff happens in a long taxi drive...


Yeah... now that I think of it, there was something.

All the while there, I couldn't shake that nasty feeling I'd gotten back in the office, right when I'd read that photo. It got worse as we got further outta town, too.

At the time I'd put it all down to nerves and jitters, maybe that and the driver's aftershave. Like I said, I didn't know exactly what I was gonna find when I got there...

Oh, I knew about Fülöp's. I was talking about the reception. Like I said, you never really know until they tell you, and even then they could be shitting you, just for laughs. 'Put 'er there, pal,' and then someone puts a hollowpoint behind your ear while you're reaching across the table...

Yeah, lots of fun.

So I got there, and the parking lot was deserted. No cars at all, even around the corner where the employees tend to park. Nothing.

Yeah. The lights were on, there was smoke coming from the kitchen, and I could hear music... but there was just us, there.

Well, that and the big guy by the front doors. He was dressed in a gray suit sharp enough to cut tin, and sunglasses that probably cost more than I stood to make on the case as it was. He was just standing there with his arms crossed, waiting for someone to start arguing about the dress code or try getting in without a reservation... you know the type, right?

That's when I started to get a lot more worried. No extra witnesses. That wasn't good.

I told the taxi driver to pull up to the front columns, by the door, and let me out. He offered to wait, of course, and neglected to tell me that he'd charge me by the minute for the privilege. It's one of the older tricks, but one of the better ones.

I settled up and gave him an extra twenty to pretend he had to go somewhere else, but stick around by the edge of the property for 20 minutes. He agreed, but something in his eyes told me he was gonna be gone if I had to run. He didn't look stupid enough to play getaway car, even if he really needed the extra money.

I walked up to the guy at the front door, and that feeling... the one we were talking about earlier? It was just getting worse with every step. Especially when I got closer to him.

He did not look good. He was pale - I mean, really pale - and there was something about the way his eyes were reflecting the light. Like a dog's eyes, only not as sharp...

At the time, I thought it was the sunglasses, but then I thought it might be something else. Maybe contacts or something. You know how people dress these days, all trying to look bad ass...

Yeah. Let me tell this story, okay? Makes more sense if we're on the same page.

He looked down at me like I was a bug in a suit, just like all doorpeople tend to do. And I looked up and him, smiled my best 'fuck you' smile, and said I had a reservation at 8.

I tried to, anyway. He interrupted me halfway through the word "reservation," and said 'You're late.'

Then he looked askance, said 'Tell him his guest's arrived?' in a much more polite tone of voice. That's about when I heard the taxi's motor gunning it, far and away, and I knew I was stranded. Talk about taking the money and running...

The big guy, he just stood there, looking at me. Then I heard a buzzing noise, like a hidden mike, and he nodded to whatever he heard.

Then he turned right around, took a step back and opened the doors for me. There was a blast of jazzy, ballroom music from behind them, and I heard people talking and laughing.

'Right on through,' he said, still looking at me like I was a bug: 'And don't do anything stupid. We are watching."

Inside, it was like nothing I'd ever seen.

I mean, I had been to Fülöp's, before. Maybe once or twice, but not to eat and not for very long. Even with what I get paid out on a good case, I can't make eating at that kind of joint a regular deal, so I don't even indulge.

But every time I'd ever gone in there, it'd been about as sedate as a funeral home. High-priced couples at tables, jewelry glittering and cufflinks clinking. Snooty, faggot waiters floating between tables. Soft music over the speakers. Not so much as a loud peep from anyone, even when folks got angry enough to kill.

But that night... Jesus. It was like I'd stepped into someone's high school reunion. They had a jazz band up on the stage - and I mean a real band, like they used to have back in the big band days, with horns and suits and all. And all these pretty young things and pretty old things were out there, dressed to the nines, kicking it up on the floor.

Yeah. No tables, no chairs, no maitre'd waiting to pounce on you... they didn't even have the guy by the coatroom, if you could believe that.

But that bad feeling... it didn't go away. In fact it got worse the moment I walked through the door and into the room. It was like being two inches away from a hornet's nest and wondering when they were gonna wake up and sting you to death.

Of course, I couldn't back out, now. So I put one foot in front of the other, put my hands in my pockets and milled around, wondering when someone was going to notice I was there. I mean, they were watching me, right?

I didn't have that long to wait. Some pretty gal with a really gorgeous face, fancy shades and Audrey Hepburn gloves came up, said her name was Liosliath, and asked me to come with her. She was really polite and friendly. She was also as pale as the big guy at the door... and everyone else in the room, I couldn't help but notice...

Yeah. But like I said, let me tell this?

She walked me around the dance area, which is usually where they had the main seating area, and took me back to a private room. It's the corner room... well, it was the corner room. It had a big, curved corner window so you could see the Sound without dealing with panes getting in the way. Really swanky, especially at night with the lights down low.

There was a big table in there, and there were lots of chairs around it, but only one was taken up. There was a guy in there, sitting with his back to the corner window, with a bottle of something expensive and two glasses. He was...

Hell, I think nondescript is the best way to talk about Mr. Lacuna. Even now I've got this problem remembering exactly what his face looked like. And that's after meeting with him dozens of times, even. Funny, huh?



But, other than that, it was the same deal as outside: nice clothes, sunglasses, pale skin and funny eyes that didn't reflect the light properly. I was about to ask if they'd all went to the same private school for albinos, even if that wasn't such a good idea, and then the gal excused herself.

"I'll be outside, if you need anything," she said, and sort of winked at me. Then she closed the door, and it was almost as if the music on the other side of the door had been turned off on cue. Damn good soundproofing... at least, that's what I thought, then. But...

Well, let's just say I'm not sure. That was one thing I learned about these people. You just never knew...

The guy looked up at me, and smiled. He waved a hand to a seat close to him, and when he spoke it was like someone playing a sweet, little violin. You just couldn't not listen.

'I'm sorry about your door,' he said, which turned out to be typical conversation-starting material for him. Ever after he was always 'sorry about this' or 'sorry about that.' It was never 'how are you?' or 'how have you been?' or anything normal. He was always apologizing for something...

Well, okay. He usually had a lot to apologize for. We'll get to that, too, sooner or later

I shrugged and thanked him for the repair money. And then he smiled, and asked if he could have back the extra two hundred I hadn't needed.

Right about then, it seemed like the room went cold, on me, and the hornet's nest feeling flared up again. There'd been no one in that office but me and the super... or had there? Had someone been listening, or had they gotten to the super, too? Or... what?

I must have lost the poker face, because he just smiled and waved a hand: 'I was joking, Harry,' he said.

'That's good,' I replied, hoping it'd just been a lucky guess on his part. But then he smiled again, and ruined it all by telling me I could keep them both.

'Consider it payment for your already-considerable troubles,' he said, and tipped himself some of whatever was in the bottle. He poured some for me as well, but I hardly noticed.

'How did you know?' I asked, figuring I might as well cut through the bullshit.

'We just do,' he said: 'Please, sit. Make yourself comfortable.'

'I'd rather stand,' I said. I really hoped I could just get the hell out of there. Whatever thoughts I'd had about playing my cards and getting more info... fuck that. I wanted out of there.

'Well, it'll be hard to eat standing up,' he replied, and pushed the glass over to where he'd wanted me to sit.

I asked what he meant, and he smiled again. 'Eat?' he said: 'I was hoping we could have dinner together, while we talked?'

I told him that wasn't what I was expecting at all, and he just smiled and waved at me again: 'Neither was the other night, I'm sure?'

Yeah, you guessed it. Hornet's nest.

And he just waved at me again, like it was going out of style: 'Just roll with it, Harry. I'm not here to threaten you, bully you or kill you. I just want to tell you a few things, and then you can do whatever you like... within reason, of course.'

He smiled, again, but it was a different kind of smile. After a while I learned that was his way of saying "gotcha" and acted accordingly. But it never stopped creeping me out.

I told him I wasn't hungry, and it was the truth, too. But he sighed and insisted: 'You absolutely have to try the Coc au Vin,' he said.

'Bit expensive, ain't it?' I asked, and he just smiled the "gotcha" smile at me again, and replied 'But you were going through Hundred-dollar bills like they were water just yesterday?'

It was my turn to smile, since I figured they must have asked at the shelters. And I said 'Well's going dry.'

He just found that funny. Really funny. He had this weird laugh... the kind where you're laughing with your mouth closed, and it comes out 'HMMT-Hmmt-Hmmt-Hmmt-Hmmt-Hmmt' outta your nose?

Yeah, really annoying after a while. But I couldn't say anything, could I?

Anyway, he said he'd put mine on the house. No problems.

Of course, that meant I had to ask him if he was the house. And he just smiled and did that laugh again, and said that, no, he wasn't the house.

'But don't worry about it, Harry,' he said: 'One Coc au Vin under the table isn't going to bring it all down.'

'So where's Fülöp?' I asked. Right about then's when I decided I might as well sit my ass down, too.

He did that laugh, again - shorter, this time - and winked over his wine glass. There was no Fülöp, he said. 'It's just an in-joke of sorts, Harry. We're all funny people, here.'

'You do own the place, though?'

'Yes,' he replied, and took a real hard snort of what was in his glass: 'It's ours. We also own a few other properties around town, but we tend to come here when we want to let our hair down.'

I was gonna ask about that, but he just shook his head: 'There's no need to ask me to elaborate. Especially when you've got better questions to ask.'

'Can I get a straight answer?' I asked, and he nodded, taking another snort.

So I asked my question: 'What the fuck is going on?'

Yeah, I asked it just like that. I was not having a good time by that point. And if it rubbed him the wrong way, he just didn't show it.

He just poured himself some more of that wine - which was really pungent stuff - looked me right in the eyes, and said a single word: 'Ghosts.'

And even though we had the rest of that conversation to go through, and a few other things to say and do besides, that's really how I came to work for Mr. Lacuna. Everything else that's happened this last month... even what happened to poor old Fred... it all came outta that.

I shoulda just run. I know that, now. I shoulda just punched him out and run for it. Maybe they'd have come for me, maybe not. But...


Oh... time's up? Well, ain't that a crying shame. I was just getting to the good part, too.

But yeah, rules are rules. Damn, did I ever find that out.

Yeah, you take care, okay? Sorry if I yelled at you a few times. I guess I'm just kind of frustrated... that's all.


Well, I sure hope I'll see you tomorrow. Ain't like I'm going anywhere, right?


The psychologist looked down her eyeglasses at the public defender, who was standing by the prison's turnkey officer and pretending to enjoy a cup of coffee with the man. In the interview room, behind her, she could hear the orderlies moving the prisoner out the other door.

"I don't think it's really appropriate to be discussing my conclusions in mixed company," she said, her tone icy enough to make most men clutch their balls in fear of their having frozen solid. The turnkey got the point and wandered off, hopefully out of reach.

"Well?" the man repeated himself: "What have we got?"

"You were right to seek psychological testing," she told him, looking over her notes: "I'll need to hear more to be certain, but if he's faking it, he's doing an amazing job of it so far."

"You'd be surprised," the lawyer replied, shaking his head: "Harry's a slippery customer. Even when he was on our side of the law, he never really was. I think Fred had him pegged from the start."

"So are you defending him, or prosecuting him?" She asked, looking down her glasses at him again.

"I'm defending him, by the book, so the prosecution can send him to his well-deserved reward for what he did... by the book," he stated, smiling.

"We're gonna have a fair trial, followed by a quick hanging, in other words," she smiled back, wondering if she was quoting John Wayne or someone else.

"Hey, you call it what you want," the defender snorted: "I knew Fred personally. Yeah, he was an asshole, but he was a good asshole. And that piece of shit in there..."

He couldn't bring himself to finish his thought. He just winced, shook his head and sighed: "I got the short straw in this one. That's all there is to it."

"You should recuse yourself, then," she pointed out.

"Yeah, and then I'd get shafted by the folks up top for not being able to handle it," he said: "No, I'm with this one to the bitter end."

"You're not doing him any favors-"

"Fuck him," he replied, and then went off to go get the turnkey to let them all out of here. That was all that needed saying, as far as he was concerned.

And she sighed, knowing that this was just the way things worked. Maybe Harry really was faking it, and maybe he really was hearing voices, sensing things that weren't there and convinced that all his actions were done on the behalf of ghosts.

But in the end the truth was going to rest in the hands of people who would never understand him. People who'd only see him for what he did, rather than why. People who tended to think that people like her were the real nuts for even listening to crazy stories in the first place. People who weren't his true jury of peers, in other words.

And that probably meant he was going to get his quick hanging after all...

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