BLOOD ON THE HARDWOOD CONCRETE CH.3 - NO COINCIDENCES
By Ryan Hunter
You stare down at the door mouse between the man’s legs. It’s like a car wreck, terrible to look upon but impossible to look away.
“What now?” Curly asks.
His voice shatters your reverie like a sparrow flying into a plate glass window. “Get a picture,” you say to him, looking away before you can be ensnared again by the siren draw of tiny junk.
“You need something to look at later tonight?” Twiggy asks.
“That’s cute,” you say. “Just for that, you fellows get to take Wee Willy Winky’s bare ass down to the station.”
“That’s nice,” Sweetwater says, pulling a cell phone out of his pocket and snapping a picture. “What’s your number?” he asks.
“What the hell do you need that for?” you ask.
“So I can text you the picture.”
“I’ve got a rotary sitting on my office desk, can you text to that?”
“You know I can’t text to that,” Sweetwater says.
You reach out and pluck the phone out of his hands. “In that case, I’m just going to have to hold onto this for a while.”
You walk down the alley away from the ‘Trotters. Sweetwater yells after you, “Man, you better not be using up my minutes. Don’t think I won’t be checking that bill.”
Without turning you offer him a one-finger salute as you tuck your heater back into its holster under your coat.
“And what are you going to be doing while we’re playing delivery boys?” Curly asks.
“What I do best,” you yell back to him as you turn out of the alley.
As you head back to the scene of the crime, you pull the brim of your fedora down low on your forehead, stuff your hands deep into the pockets of your overcoat and cast your eyes down to the sidewalk. The last thing you want is to be noticed snooping around the body.
Of course, with the circus of reporters, police and rubber-neckers milling around, you probably wouldn’t be noticed if you stripped bare and ran around the block jumping up and down. Actually, you think, that might be the only thing that would distract people from the excitement of a poor woman robbed of her life.
Still, you keep your eyes fixed on the ground, watching the litter dance around your feet. It only takes you a moment to realize there’s uniformity to most of the litter. White 1 X 3 cards have been sprinkled over the sidewalk like confetti after a parade.
You scoop one of the cards off the ground and examine it. It’s a business card for a place called Different Happyness. You arch an eyebrow at the Y in happiness and wonder if it was intentional.
The card is clean and smooth; it obviously hasn’t sat outside under heavy foot traffic for long.
You tap the card absently against your palm, thinking over the events of the last few moments. A woman was killed scant feet from where you were sitting at dinner, most likely by the very person you’d just been hired to find. Then, when you went out to investigate, you were distracted by a small-penised flasher. It is possible that these are nothing more than a series of coincidences, but you’ve never been fond of coincidences.
You’re sure there’s something going on, and you think the road to answers just might begin with Different Happyness.
You turn your back on Gino’s, promising to never darken their doorstep again. It’s the same promise you made last night and the night before and every other night for the past five years, and it will likely be the promise you make tomorrow.
The lobby of Different Happyness is furnished nicely with a blend of wicker and watercolor. Musak pours out of speakers mounted in the ceiling and a woman sits alone behind a desk on the far side of the small room.
She looks up from her Vanity Fair as you enter. “Can I help you?” she asks.
“I hope,” you say, crossing to her while pulling Sweetwater’s phone from your pocket. You glance at it, expecting buttons, but all you see is a screen. You never had much to do with these contraptions, but you’d assumed there’d be buttons. You hold the phone out to the desk clerk. “You know how to work one of these?”
“Um,” the woman says, taking it from you and examining it. “Yeah, I guess. I mean, I have one like it.”
“Great, pull up the pictures, would you?” you say.
The woman pokes the screen a couple of times and, through some magical incantation or other, brings a picture up on the screen. It is not one you were expecting.
“Did you want this picture of the naked African American man hanging from a trapeze with one, two, three…six equally naked women?” the woman asks, her expression a blank.
“No, that’s not the picture I wanted at all,” you say, turning your head to look at the picture of Sweetwater and his harem from a different angle.
The woman swipes her finger across the screen and another picture appears. “Perhaps you wanted this one of the same African American man with the same lack of clothing jumping through a ring of fire with what appears to be eight other women.”
“Nope, not that one either.”
She pulls up another picture and says, “What about the same man, same naked, what appears to be a baker’s dozen naked woman and a tiger?”
“Keep going,” you say, sighing and wondering what else Sweetwater has been keeping from you.
She continues, pulling up picture after picture of Sweetwater and his erotic, circus-themed orgies, each picture more disturbing than the last until, at last, she stops. “Oh my,” she says as she looks at the picture Sweetwater took of Wee Willy. For the first time her face shows emotion. “That’s Paul.”
“Paul No-Dick?” you say.
“Nordic,” she corrects. “But I suppose that would be appropriate.”
“How do you know him?” you ask.
“He works here.”
“And what exactly do you do here?” you ask, spying a jar of lollipops and grabbing one.
“We are an adult entertainment business specializing in… unique desires.” She nods to the picture on the phone in her hand. “Paul was a flasher. People paid him to run up to someone on the street, flash them, and then run away. He was very popular because, well… his presentation was memorable.”
“Yeah, I guess it would be hard to forget getting flashed by a Ken doll.”
The girl giggles behind her hand.
“So he was on assignment tonight?”
“Oh gosh, he must have been. Paul never moonlighted.” She giggles again and says, “No pun intended.”
“Mm hmm,” you say, not paying much attention to the conversation. If Paul was hired to be outside Gino’s, then he must have been there just to distract you. If he was there for you, somebody knows you’ve been put on the case. The only person who should know that, outside of the Trotters, is the Chief.
“Any chance you can get me the name of the guy who hired him?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I think that’s confidential,” she says.
“Look, your buddy could have been killed tonight,” you say.
“So he’s not dead?”
“Nah, he just took a Spalding to the place where he’s balding.” You wink at her at pop the sucker in your mouth. “But he could have, and I think the guy who hired him set him up.”
“Oh,” she says, flipping through a box presumably filled with records.
“How does somebody get involved in this line of work anyway?” you ask as she searches.
“Oh, different ways, some answer ads on the internet, some are referred to us by employs, some just come in off the street. I was sort of hoping you were coming in for a job; we have a request for someone with just your body type.”
You look skeptically down at your gut and then back at the girl. “Well, I’ve never been much for flashing,” you say.
“Oh, it’s not a request for a flasher. This job just needs someone in a chicken suit willing to Fetisherize.”
“What the hell is that?”
“Oh, it’s detailed in this manual,” she says, handing a booklet over the counter to you.
You take a moment to read it over, spitting your lollypop out halfway on the chance that it may have been involved in something like this. “Good God, why would anyone do that?”
“Flip the page.”
You do and you’re almost as shocked as you were when reading the Fetisherize description. “Five thousand bucks for one night?” you say.
“For one hour. If they want you longer, they have to pay extra.”
“Hmmm,” you say, flipping back to the description and reading it over again with a slightly broader mind.
The phone rings in the girl’s hand just as she pulls the name of Paul’s client out of her records box. She presses a green box on the screen and hands it over to you.
“Hello,” you say, hoping this thing works like the phones you can actually operate.
“Hey man,” Curly starts to say.
Sweetwater yells in the background, “You know this is costing me minutes, make it quick.”
“Okay, shut up,” Curly says, obviously not to you. “We got naked-guy booked, what—”
Again Curly is cut off when Sweetwater yells, “And tell him not to be looking through my pictures. I’ve got… personal stuff in there.”
You’re not kidding, you think.
“All right, don’t look at his pictures,” Curly says to you. “Now, what do you want us to do next?”
A. Tell the ‘Trotters to hang out at the station because you’re heading over to confront the chief about who else knew you were on the case?
B. Tell the ‘Trotters to meet you at the address of the guy who hired Paul so you can sweat some answers out of him?
C. Say, “Screw the case,” send the ‘Trotters home, and take the lucrative Chicken Suit/Fetisherize job?