The Draw of Emptiness

The man laid on his stomach, snoring softly, the sheets twisted around his right leg. Lamb sat beside him and wondered what his name was. After a few minutes it didn`t matter and she got up, pulled on a pair of panties, picked a t-shirt up from the bedroom floor, and tugged it over her head.

She walked barefoot to the kitchen. The tiles were cold because the day before had been warm and she’d opened all the windows and forgot to close them. It did smell fresh in the apartment, though. Lamb busied herself by rinsing out the wine glasses, emptying the ashtray and starting the coffee. She didn’t worry about making too much noise, partly because the man seemed like a deep sleeper and also because she wanted him to wake up and leave.

Mornings were hers. She made of point of spending them alone.

The coffee was ready and she poured herself a cup and wrapped her grandfather’s heavy wool cardigan around her shoulders and stepped out on the balcony. Lamb smoked and stared.

She remembered reading somewhere that when angry, eskimos used to leave their igloos and start walking. They’d keep going until they felt better and then they’d drive a stick into the ground, or make a little tower of rocks. She imagined all these little sign posts saying I’m over it, jutting up from the tundra.

Lamb found the idea romantic, but was unsure why she’d thought of it.

The shower was running, so her guest must be awake. She thought of making him a coffee, and then decided not to. She waited until the water stopped and then went back out on the balcony, closing the door behind her.

If she had any luck, Lamb thought, he’d slip away without letting her know.

Some Things Just End Up That Way

Dzinski-4

 

Dzinski held his arm out, dangling his handkerchief as she sobbed, rocking back and forth in the chair.

“I was swept away,” Elizabeth Harris Winston, heiress to the Winston fortune, said between sobs. “He was so handsome, so engaging, so different from the other men I’ve met. I couldn’t help myself. In some ways, I’m still a stupid little girl.”

He didn’t know what to say, so he didn’t say anything. He was boxing out of his weight on this one. Winston was in her late thirties, never married. Her chestnut hair was a little too rich to be real and the lines around her mouth and eyes were deepening. She also had the look of someone who spent most of their time with their elbow holding down a bar.

“I must seem a mess,” she said. “Mr. Dzinski, I apologize.”

She pulled a compact from her purse, wiped her eyes and her mouth with another few tissues, crumpled them together and left them on the corner of the desk. A few fingers poked into the chin-length bob, and the unruly curls retreated. She snapped the compact closed, and leaned forward in her chair.

“Can you retrieve my ring? It was my father’s wedding band. It’s not worth hardly anything, except to me. This Victor said it was stolen, but I doubt it. More than likely he’ll use it as a lure the next time his wallet is empty.”

Winston sighed. Dzinski noticed her left hand was shaking.

“And being the fool I am,” she said. “I’ll come running.”

 

******

 

Dzinski dragged the shackled, scowling, young man out of the backseat of the car and into the building. He kept one hand clamped tight on the other’s arm as they rode up the clanking elevator to the third floor and as they walked down the threadbare hallway carpet. Shoving the kid’s face into the wall, he fumbled in his pocket for his keys and opened the office door. He pointed at the wooden chair and the kid crossed the room mumbling to himself.

“You ain’t got no right to treat me this way,” the kid said. Dzinski ignored him. He hung his coat and hat on the hook beside the door and walked around the desk rolling up his shirtsleeves. “You’re gonna regret this.”

He lit a cigarette and stared at the kid through the smoke. Dzinski took a wallet from his jacket pocket. He pulled out a driver’s license, and looked it over.

“This yours?” Dzinski asked.

“It was in my pocket, wasn’t it?”

“Nicholas O’Hara? Says here you should be forty two years old.”

“I look good for my age, is all.”

Dzinski set the card down on his desk.

“You going to tell me your real name?”

“You going to tell me why you dragged me down here?”

“You match the suspect’s description for a couple of recent robberies,” Dzinski said. “The cops want you for questioning. I saw you and figured I’d do them a favour by rounding you up and bringing you down to the station. Then you took a swing at me and tried to run away. I’m not much for chasing downs punks, usually.”

The kid stared at Dzinski’s gut. “No shit,” he said, smirking.

“I’m willing to let that last one drift by, maybe I’m feeling generous, or maybe I have my own reasons for bringing you here.”

“You must be some kind of queer, I bet,” the kid said. “Even worse, you probably only like fucking the young ones.”

Dzinski crushed his cigarette out, stood up, walked around the desk and slapped the kid with an open palm.

“Watch your mouth,” Dzinski said, staying where he was. He slapped him again before the whine could escape, and then made his eyes as hard as he could. “You done?”

The kid nodded. Dzinski went behind him and unlocked the cuffs. He went back to his desk, set the keys in the drawer, shook out another cigarette and offered it to the kid, who refused. Instead he rubbed his wrists and his cheek and tried to look tough.

“Okay, Nick,” Dzinski said, laughing a little, “Here’s how it lays; my client left something somewhere and then it happened to be stolen along with some other things. Most likely by you or the guys you’re working with. All I want is that one thing; the rest is none of my business. So, you get it for me, and then we go our own ways.”

“Bullshit,” the kid said. “If that was all you wanted, you could have said so before.”

“I tried, you ran.”

Dzinski put his feet up and smoked, letting the kid work it out. He finished his cigarette and was about to light another when the kid started talking.

“I ain’t saying I know anything, but if I did, and I got a hold of this thing you want, you’d let me walk away?”

“Like I said, I’m only paid to recover the one item.”

The kid chewed on this a bit longer.

“What are you looking for?” he asked.

“Who’s the fence?”

The kid looked up. He hesitated. Dzinski could tell he was working out a believable lie. But something changed.

“They work out of antique store on Notre-Dame,” he said.

 

******

 

A light was on somewhere in the back, but no one came to the door when he knocked. Dzinski stepped back into the street and looked up. The owner could live in one of the apartment above the store, but all those windows were dark too, and it was a hell of a thing to start walking up stairs and rattling doorknobs if you didn’t know what you were looking for.

Movement in the store caught his eye, and he hurried back to the glass of the door. He knocked. The silhouette stopped and turned. It started walking towards him, then paused and headed into the backroom and turned off the lights. Dzinski shook out a cigarette and waited.

About halfway through, a low whistle caught his attention; he looked around and saw a shadow waving him towards the alley across the street. He walked toward it, wishing he’d brought his damn gun.

“What are you doing out here?” someone said. The talker tried to disguise their voice by making it deeper and raspier, so Dzinski just stood at the mouth of the alley and smoked and waited for the charade to end.

“What do you want?” they said again, and then started coughing. Dzinski moved in and grabbed the man’s jacket with both hands and pulled him out in the street, to get a look at him.

“I don’t want to get stabbed in an alley,” he said.

“Who said anything about getting stabbed?” the man asked. He was balding, an oiled moustache crept across this upper lip, his clothes were of fair quality, because Dzinski yanked him pretty hard and the seams seemed to hold together. In the streetlight Dzinski could see he wasn’t a threat, even if they were about the same height he probably outweighed the other by forty pounds. He let him go.

“You go knocking at doors at this hour, makes a guy wonder,” the man said.

“So you sneak out the back and circle around?” Dzinski asked.

“Circle?” he asked, genuinely puzzled. “Oh, I get it. You think I was in the store?”

“You weren’t?”

“Nah. I’ve been posted here since you showed up. I was watching the place down the street. Client of mine thought his wife might be, ah, visiting the location.”

Dzinski turned and looked at the one lighted window in the third floor of the building across the street.

“Divorce Investigations?”

The man shrugged. “Pays the bills.”

He stuck out his hand, and introduced himself as Eric Slathers. Dzinski gave his name.

“So, what are you doing out here?” Slathers asked.

“Looking to buy something. Heard this place might be selling.”

Slathers scratched behind his ear. The two men stood looking at each other for as few minutes. A car turned off the cross street, drove past them and pulled to the curb under the lighted window. The driver gave two give blasts on his horn. A few minutes later, a couple of women, holding each other up, came down the stairs. They hollered at the driver, telling him to keep his pants on, for now at least. One of them laughed like a seagull and they fell into the back seat. The car took off and disappeared around the next left.

“The wife?” Dzinski asked.

“Fits the description all right.”

Slather swore and shoved his hands in his pocket and said his stakeout was bust and that he might as well get along. He wished Dzinski a good night and walked away.

 

******

 

He  found the listing in the phonebook, and dialed.

“Slathers Investigation,” a nasally female voice said. Dzinski asked to speak to Eric Slathers.

“I’m sorry,” the receptionist said. “Did you mean Edward Slathers?”

Dzinski said he did and when she asked him to hold while she transferred the call, he hung up. He went back to the phone book, and saw the number was listed under E. Slathers.

He pulled the bottle of bourbon from his drawer.

 

******

 

After a poor night’s sleep, a shower that went from cold to hot and back again, and a cup of bitter coffee, Dzinski felt as fresh as an onion.

 

******

 

He sat at his desk opening bills and glanced at a flyer advertising a sale on colour televisions. The telephone rang and he tried to ignore it, wondering who the hell called at this time of the morning. Looking at the clock on the wall, he saw it was nearly eleven. Dzinski picked it up on the fifth ring. It was Winston.

“Mr. Dzinski, I hope I’m not bothering you,” she said. “I was just about to hang up.”

“Glad you didn’t. I just got in the office, was following up a lead,” he lied. “But it petered out. What can I do for you?”

“I just wanted to let you know, I found my father’s ring. Well, Victor found it. It must have rolled off the night table. It took him this long to get everything straightened out after the robbery.”

“Well, that’s a pleasant surprise,” Dzinski said, chewing the inside of his cheek.

“It really is,” Winston said. “I feel like such a fool for the way I acted the other day, Mr. Dzinski. I hope, I hope…well, thank you for humouring me, I suppose. Do you mind if I stop in this afternoon, to settle the account? I have a plane to catch at three, but could be in your office by one.”

Dzinski said that would be fine and he would be waiting for her. Then he hung up and sat staring at the walls.

******

He studied at the cheque for a minute after Winston left. The five hundred bucks for two days work felt like hush money, but he couldn’t figure out why. She insisted he take it, and he tried to argue, but she won him over saying she needed to make this flight. Dzinski locked it in his desk and went to the window just in time to see her walk across the street to a waiting, cream coloured Bentley pulled along the curb.

A man stepped out wearing a panama hat and held the door open for her. He closed the door and took off his hat to wipe at his forehead. Dzinski recognized him as the man claiming to be Slathers.

By the time he ran down to the street, the car was gone.

 

*****

 

The front door of Antiques and Oddities was locked. Dzinski cupped his hands over his eyes, and tried to see in the shadowy room. Stacks of wooden furniture, shelves filled with knick knacks and curios, walling in a narrow path that took a sharp left and disappeared.

He moved into the alley and around the back. The door was locked but the wooden frame had started to rot and when he put his shoulder to it, the door swung open easily. It opened on a small cluttered office, a desk beside him and a high table against the wall to his right. The floor creaked under him as he moved to examine a movable lamp and a magnifying glass clamped to the table.

Dzinski ran his finger along it and it came away clean.

He moved into the front of the store, moving sideways along the narrows serpentine passageways, stopping now and then to hold in a sneeze when he breathed in too much dust, and finally reaching the front door. It was double bolted. He looked out the window, the street wavy through the frosted glass, but he didn’t see any flashing lights.

He started back through the maze and rationalized that not all hunches turned out to be winners when he noticed the small carpet behind the desk. Dzinski gave it a yank and exposed a cellar door.

 

*****

“So how did you happen to find the body?” Leukemic, from homicide, asked.

“I was following up a lead,” Dzinski said. “For a client.”

“Who were you working for?”

“Does it matter?”

“When it comes to dead bodies, most things matter.”

Lemieux had a Frenchman’s nose and half his manners. Dzinski had bumped up against him a few times over the last couple of years, and the relationship was chilly but respectful.

“Was the back door open?” Lemieux asked.

Dzinski shook his head and pulled out a cigarette.

“So,” Lemieux continued. “You found this body, after an unlawful entry?”

“Yes.”

The sudden honesty shocked the homicide detective for an instant.

“Calisse,” Lemieux said. “Frank, you gotta give me something. Otherwise I have to take you in.”

“Fine,” Dzinski exhaled and dropped his cigarette, and crushed it under his toe. “I had information this antique store was being used as a fence. Those robberies from last week might tie into it.”

Lemieux looked disappointed.

“So you questioned a suspect and didn’t bring him in?”

Dzinski shrugged.

 

*****

He spent the night in jail and the morning got a stern talking-to from the Lieutenant. The night on the cot did nothing for Dzinski’s good humour or his back. They threatened and yelled, but as long as he kept his mouth shut, they’d have to let him go, and eventually they did.

 

*****

“Local Heiress Murdered in Mexico,” the headline said. Dzinski kept reading.

“Elizabeth Harris Winston, daughter to the late Frederic Winston, was found dead in her Acapulco hotel room yesterday morning. Local officials suspect foul play. The unknown man she checked in with, is wanted for questioning.”

The police sketch was of the man he met in that alley, no question.

Dzinski threw the paper down and unlocked his desk drawer. He took a deep drink from the bottle, and tore the five hundred dollar cheque to pieces.

“I don’t want anything from you,” I said, asking myself if I was telling her the truth.
- Ross Macdonald, in Sleeping Beauty

South Of The Border

The man led his horse through the pueblo’s gates and hitched him outside the nearest saloon. A faded wanted poster bearing his likeness was nailed to the wall. The bar was empty except for the bartender, wiping down glasses with a stained rag.

He ordered whiskey. He drank it and ordered another.

“You here for the wedding?” the bartender asked. The ceremony was just about to begin.

He nodded and drank.

“You seem familiar to me.”

The man shrugged. He paid and left. The bartender watched him walk out into the sun-bleached street and noticed the man cast no shadow.

 

Prompt courtesy of the Friday Fictioneers. Read more stories here.

Across the Universe

I read your piece in a magazine that I found somewhere, probably this weird coffee shop my friend took me to, where you have to walk down this narrow alley to get in and then it’s just one big room with a guy running around filling up people’s cups with whatever concoction he’s just brewed up, and there are like seventy five cats just lying in the slashes of sunlight coming in from the windows that face this strange forgotten little courtyard that no one could access, at least from what I could tell, when I pressed my cheeks up against the glass and looked all around.

Anyway, where I read it isn’t important.

There was a line, shit; of course, now I have to go and forget the specific line, when I’d been repeating it over and over to myself ever since I first read it. I flagged the coffee giver down after first seeing it and asked if he had a pen, and then he said he didn’t believe in pens, that this was a pen free space, not only pen free, but there was to be no writing instruments, ever, in this little space he had carved out in the world.

I almost stole the magazine, but felt like people were watching me, after the pen ordeal, so I started repeating the line, to memorize it, but I guess somewhere along the way I stopped and something else happened and I forgot.

I don’t even know your name, never even occurred to me to up a little and see the story by credit, I was just enraptured by the that combination of four or five words or whatever it was, but I do think it was short. I’m going about this in the longest way possible, but basically all I wanted you to know was that something you wrote resonated with me.

Thanks for that.

So I figured I’d write this and send it out into the universe and maybe, somehow, you would find it and know.

Grounded

The tick tock ticking of the clock on the wall filled the silences as I waited for my punishment. Father sat against the wall, not in his usually chair, facing the hall, I sat in my seat, at his right, if he hadn’t moved.

I knew Mother was somewhere, out of sight, but listening, waiting.

My mouth opened but father slammed his hand down on the table, not strong, but solidly. Extra chores, he said, digging out the garden, dishes in the morning and after dinner, no TV, no friends.

I thought I was getting off easy. I almost grinned.

A Man, A Plan, A Canal

The snow started melting, and the lousy sidewalk dips , so I ended up with a four inch deep puddle at the bottom of my stairs. The dog wouldn’t walk through it, and I was tired of stepping in it, and I had a couple of beer already, so I was up for doing something, and figured this would be worthwhile.

I started hacking at the ice with my shovel, chopping away, trying to gouge a drainage canal. This was the stuff that never gets dug up by the ploughs, and then hardened and crystallized by all the people walking over it and packing it down.

Starting to make a little headway and one of the neighbours totters by, trying to avoid stepping in the puddles, but doing a poor job of it, because the whole damn sidewalk is submerged.

“The sewer’s blocked, that’s why this is all pooling here,” she says, with the tone of an obvious expert. I let her know I already dug it out, give her wink. She snarls back you wouldn’t expect any of them, gestures at the block behind her, to do it. I nod.

“They do live right in front of it.”

I give her another nod and get back to slamming my shovel edge into the ice. The water’s coming, but can’t get over a ridge.

While I’m chipping away at it, the landlord comes out, he lives on the ground floor, I’m up on the third.

“You’re in for it,” he says. I smile because the rent’s a few days late already and I’m not in a position to tell him he should be out here doing this instead of me, seeing as it’s his building. He starts up with the small talk a bit, and I keep chipping away and nodding now and then.

When he’s had enough of hearing himself talk, he heads inside, only to come out a few seconds later with an old crowbar, saying how it might work easier for me, and I admit, that’s a damn good idea, so I thank him kindly and get back to it.

There’s a steady stream flowing now, but it isn’t drainage fast enough, so I decide that canal needs to be wider. I call up to the wife, have her bring me down a beer. She gets to the landing, a floor up and just throws it down at me. Lucky for me, I drink cans so nothing broke, but I had to wait before opening it, and I was really looking forward to drinking it.

“You’d think you be a little more thankful,” I said, aiming for sweetness, “I’m doing this so you won’t get your feet wet when you head out to the grocery store later.”

She asked me why in the hell she’d be doing that, and I said we got to eat don’t we, and since I was doing all the back breaking labour, she might as well fry up a couple of steaks.

A Means of Escape

Them damn hounds, and the fat belly bastards behind them, were still on his tail. Their baying bounced off the corkscrew tree trunks, echoing and distorted. Panicked, and weak, he stumbled over an exposed root, and fell hard.

A woman appeared, bent down in front of him. She smelled of freshly turned earth. He opened his eyes and saw her. Knew she looked familiar, knew he could trust her, knew he would follow her.

The hounds circled the area while the men scratched their heads, looked at the pile of clothes and wondered if the damn fool was running naked.

 

Prompt courtesy of the Friday Fictioneers. Read more stories here.

Sick Day

Rabbit was home sick and jerking off to the beauties on The Price Is Right when someone knocked at the door. He tried to ignore the knocking and finish, but whoever was on the other side of the door was insistent, and the knocking ruined the mood.

He opened the door a crack. The hallway was empty. Rabbit opened the door wider and leaned out. Mrs. Hallaway from down the hall walked toward him, a full laundry basket crocked on her hip.

“Quite the package,” she said. Rabbit reddened and looked down at his crotch. Hallaway sighed and kept walking.

The Next to Last Stop

Dzinski woke up and realized he missed his stop. His head rattled along with the open panes as the bus lurched in the morning traffic. He stretched some, and ran his tongue over his teeth. They tasted of bourbon and blood.

He groaned and heard a soft snicker to his left.

Turning, he saw a thin pair of legs, too white and delicate against the hard, steel and scuffed plastic seats of the city bus. They bent softly, as if painted by brushstroke, and then led to body straining against a thin sweater. Dzinski felt claustrophobic.

“Rough night?”

“I’ve had worse,” he said, trying to smile.

“Haven’t we all,” she said and crossed the aisle to sit beside him. She smelt like a wolf hiding among wildflowers, sweet and dangerous.

“This fell out of your pocket,” the woman said, handing Dzinski his wallet.  “Are you really a shamus? I sure could use your help.”