As read by me: (Click link below)
BLACK COFFEE, HARD JUSTICE
Private Detective Joe Fisk was pushing 60.
60 was pushing back. Hard.
For instance: Morning
Joe Fisk groaned, rolled over and sat up.
He slumped forward at the edge of a fifteen dollar army surplus cot and coughed for five minutes...working air into his pipes.
"What happened last night?--It wasn’t a rhetorical question.
It was the answer itself.
Joe Fisk stared at the opposite wall - as he did every morning, at his inspirational hand-lettered sign which read,
He had promised himself there had to be an answer or he wouldn’t get up or continue being a Private Investigator unless there was a damn good reason.
He sniffed and rolled his eyes back under the lids and came out with it--the same answer
As yesterday and the day before and the day before.
His Father’s voice. The Father who had insisted he should become a Rabbi.
“Joey, it’s up to you to Repair what’s broken in this world.”
He had smart-assed back at his old man.
“What? You want I should be an auto mechanic?”
Well--that didn’t fly. But he knew what his old man meant.
Creaky philosophy was better than the alternative which was staring down into
That abyss of despair.
Fisk stood and saluted his sign smartly at attention
“For you, Pop. Mazel Tov!”
Shortly, coffee perked and an old Schick shaver hummed across his cheeks.
He stared into the cracked mirror above the sink as he shaved.
He could really use a haircut. Not this homemade hack job he’d tried the week before.
A day’s growth of stubble on his cleft chin had filled in with white whiskers.
Just that one spot. A fuzz white dot.
The rest of his beard rioted around his jawbone.
His large blue eyes were an insurrection of red cracks.
He croaked the word with a half smile.
It was his grandma’s word. She’d see an old movie star on her TV
And shake her head with disapproval.
“Look at the dissipation on Errol Flynn’s face! He used to be so handsome.”
Joe Fisk smiled to himself. It was his turn to be Errol Flynn.
Half-moon shadows bagged under his steely gaze.
“Dissipation, Bubbe, you were right.”
He stood exactly five nine.
“Like Tom Cruise!” he'd say if anybody inquired. Once a bullshitter, always a bullshitter.
Now he frowned at the old detective in his bathroom mirror.
“What happened with our cocktail waitress last night? Missing in inaction?”
The old detective carved around his chin hole with a straight razor.
Sculpting his last remaining manly feature.
Wiping shave cream away, he straightened and answered the mirror.
“I have standards to uphold. She wasn’t my type.”
The bleary image shook its head skeptically.
“Joey, nobody’s buying what you’re peddling these days. What you gave is what you got -- no respect.”
Out front a Chevy truck with a bad muffler revved and rattled the plate glass window in the front office.
Fisk snatched up the same white shirt from the day before. ( Not so white anymore. )
He gave it the sniff test and recoiled. It smelled like the Y.M.C.A. locker room. He put it on anyway.
“Gotta look nice for today’s meal ticket!” He announced in a robust voice to nobody.
The ting-a-ling bell above the door announced ‘opportunity’ as Joe Fisk slipped on his alligators and and sport jacket..
“Can I help you!?”
He approached a rumpled Stetson hat wearing a man underneath … not unlike a young Slim Pickens. Joe sized him up. Local rancher. Not too bright. Domestic troubles.
“Say, fella--where’s your partner--Glen?”
“I buried him last week.”
“Glen is dead?”
“Buried in Rose Hill Cemetery. So, um--yeah.”
“Shit fire! I need a Detective. Can you give me a referral?”
Fisk lost patience.
“Damn right I can. His name is Joe Fisk and he’s waiting to shake your hand.”
The detective leaned forward offering a handshake with a politician’s smile. Fake as a rubber snake.
The Slim Pickens character stared at the waiting hand an uncomfortable few seconds like it was the shit end of a stick -- then he shrugged and grabbed the hand and squeezed it with a manly display of gripping power.
“I’m an old buddy of Glen. Glad to know you, fella. What I need is for you to tail my girlfriend. You know? Follow her?”
Fisk wrinkled his nose at the man’s I.Q.
“What the hell? Why do think? She’s cheating on me again -- with her husband.”
“You mean Ex-husband!”
“No. Her new husband. The old one died under mysterious circumstances.”
The detective gestured for his man to sit.
He rubbed his hand. Feeling was beginning to return.
He poured coffee into a red mug with Hugh Laurie’s face on it and the two sat a spell.
Each had personal thoughts to sort.
“You’re not making any sense, Slim. Try again.”
“Her name's Rosie Clegg. I should say her new married name. He’s a damned Dutchman. He must have money cause he sure ain’t got good looks like me.”
He undid the snap on his shirt pocket and came out with a notepad. The little golf pencil behind his ear scrawled something and he handed it over.
The man’s filthy hand trembled with either rage or Parkinson’s.
Joe Fisk took the paper and stared blankly. Wondering.
He thought only to himself. ‘
'What the hell do you really want?’
The man spoke as if he’d read those thoughts.
“Up until a month ago, it was Rosie and me living off her last husband’s insurance money.
This new husband is just supposed to be our rainy day piggy bank. You understand? Rosie and me--we got something rare and special. True Love. Except she’s been cold lately. She ain’t acting right. I think she’s lying to me. As hard as it is for me to believe--I suspect she might be falling for this Dutchman.
I want my jealous suspicions confirmed before I go all Tarantino on her ass.”
Right then--the desk phone rang.
An ancient answering machine clicked on immediately.
After the beep, an alcoholic voice -- a woman’s -- loud.
<<“Glen! You worthless son-of-a-bitch! -- where’s my alimony for September and October?”>>
Fisk dived for the phone-- picked up and cleared his throat.
“Doris -- this is Joe. I buried Glen last week. Dead. Remember? I didn’t see you at the funeral. Are you okay?”
The cowpoke sat like a weary hunting dog with his head half-cocked sideways.
He couldn’t hear but one end of the conversation. He leaned in--all curious.
Fisk gestured as he argued with the telephone receiver.
“ There IS no money. Doris--you understand?
Listen to me: Glen is gone. Dead means dead. No Glen, no money.”
He hung up and shook his head sadly.
The man in the hat chuckled.
"You work in a nasty business like this, Detective. Ain’t there a better way to earn a buck?"
Joe Fisk closed his eyes slowly. He opened them even slower.
He didn’t answer.
The cowpoke leaned in and pushed his hat back.
“It’s a serious question. I wanna know what makes a man wanna spend his life listening
to drunks, murderers, jealous lovers beg you for help getting one over on their lying, whoring loved ones?”
Joe Fisk thought for a few seconds and shrugged.
" I guess it must be the thrill of an intellectual challenge."
"You're shittin' me."
“Yeah--I’m shittin’ you.”
Later, Fisk and Pickens stood next to the Chevy truck outside.
“I need cheatin’ photos or I ain’t payin’ you a cent--and don’t ask for any advances for expense. Glen knew me and trusted me. I always pay when the job is done right.”
“Do I have this straight? If I can prove Rosie Clegg loves her husband--instead of her... handsome... Stetson wearing boyfriend, I turn over the incriminating photos and you’ll pay me nine thousand dollars?”
“Right as rain, Detective Fisk. What I do to her afterwards is between me and my Almighty Father in heaven.”
They shook hands again. A stab of pain from the rancher’s squeeze made Fisk wince.
The man had probably milked a million cows in his lifetime. What a grip!
The truck sputtered off and grey fumes hung in the air along with stirred dust.
The road had stopped being paved a hundred yards upwind.
Developers had gone belly up. Either that or the city took one look at prospects for for the Shopping Center and pulled the plug.
Joe Fisk took out a pair of Dollar Store glasses and squinted hard at the notepaper.
His lips moved as he read.
“ I know this address. Don’t I?”
An hour later, after an ugly breakfast at the Waffle House (Which Glen used to call the Awful House) Fisk pulled his 1970 blue Ford Maverick into the last parking space in front of the DEW DROP INN. Right next to it stood a familiar Bar.
“I’ve haven’t been here in month of Sundays.” He mumbled to himself.
As Fisk pushed opened the creaky door, bright daylight on one side of the door gave way to a suffocating darkness inside. The air-conditioning unit clattered like a sinking destroyer on Pearl Harbor day.
Joe Fisk stood shivering, waiting for his eyes to adjust to darkness.
A silky female voice floated above the darkness and clatter.
“Good to see you again, Joseph.”
“What? Who is that? I can’t see you.”
Her velvet voice came closer and a familiar scent of Emeraude perfume smashed into Joe Fisk’s brain like Archie Moore’s boxing glove.
“Oh Jesus! Rosemary? Is that you?”
At that instant, a single light overhead blinked on and a Disco ball spun above his head.
A blaring juke box rumbled alive.
“It’s wonderful to see my handsome Joseph--such a wicked-wicked boy.”
A woman's face magically appeared. She stepped under an orange spotlight.
A garish lipstick smudged mouth widened into a kind of clown red smile.
Joe Fisk froze in horror
“ Oh, God. I don’t believe it. Rosemary Rosenbaum.”
“You mean, Rosemary Clegg. I’m a newlywed, Joseph.”
Joe Fisk shut his eyes and swallowed hard.
The shivering detective flinched as a very hot torso pulled in next to him--clenching him in a bear hug, squeezing the air out of his lungs. His mind suddenly stopped working.
“Why is it so damned cold in here, Rosemary?”
All he could think to say.
"Hot women are dangerous, Honey. A married woman needs to play it cool.”
The memory of a beautiful woman now tore away from Joe Fisk’s mind like those old billboard signs along the highway.
Beauty Queen meets entropy up close and personal.
His first love, Rosie Rosenbaum was extinct; replace by cosmetic surgery’s worst of all nightmares! Nipped, tucked, stretched, lipo-suctioned Rosie Clegg had replaced her.
Joe Fisk suddenly felt very old.
“Joseph, let me ask you something, sweetheart--do you still like cheap whiskey and dill pickles before noon?”
She had let go her python squeeze around Fisk’s body and he was able to catch his breath and clear his head a little.
“Sure I do. Yeah. Of course! Say--you’ve got a pretty damn good memory for an Old Broad.”
The woman’s whole body stiffened.
Her face--it twisted from cheerleader to executioner in the flash of an instant.
Joe cursed himself for his big mouth, as usual.
“Don’t take it the wrong way, Rosemary. I’m a big kidder, remember? I know I look like a stack of turds. But not you. You’re even more beautiful than 20 years ago. And well-I’m jealous. Yeah. I’m just envious of your...um..perfection after all these years.”
He lied and kept on lying until her hard face softened and she willed herself back into calm acceptance.
A retreat into the dream of eternal youth and beauty.
They'd ended up in her "office" in back of the bar.
It was obviously the office of a European male. Nothing feminine about it.
The Dutchman. Her husband. Where was this guy?
He asked casually and Rosie deflected.
She wanted only one thing--to see if she could still burn down the town.
Fisk struggled to keep things light and impersonal but it was an uphill battle.
“Why are you afraid of me, Joseph? You said it was too cold. Am I too hot for you?”
“It ain’t Romeo and Juliet for us anymore. I’m being respectable. That’s all.”
“So--I’m NOT respectable? Is that what you mean? You sound just like my boyfriend.”
“I meant to say--I’m being RESPECTFUL and it came out wrong. Sorry.”
“You Freud me Jane?”
It had gone on like that until the husband walked in. He was a big man.
He filled the doorway with menace.
The second he appeared, everything went silent.
Three strangers. Staring. Who would speak first?
What would Fisk say, he wondered.
The Dutchman didn’t blink; he simply turned and walked out.
Rosie Clegg glanced hard at Fisk and ran out calling after her husband.
Joe Fisk didn’t move for minute or two.
He sighed and finally relaxed.
He spoke aloud--just to himself.
“Well now, that went well.”
It was mid-afternoon as Fisk staggered out of the DEW DROP INN on wobbly legs.
It wasn’t the cheap liquor.
It wasn’t the erosion of beauty on his old flame either.
He shambled out with the sound of her voice flying around the inside of his head like bats at Carlsbad Caverns.
It was the impact of having to refuse sex to a woman he had worshiped.
A lady who had never been refused in her whole life!
Worse than all that--this was his client’s “Rosie.”
“Christ on a crutch!” He shouted
Joe Fisk sat behind the wheel of his Ford trying to clear his mind.
Self-inventory was his specialty.
For him, life itself had pretzeled.
His favorite phrase. “Life has pretzeled.”
He mean every part of him twisted back and around and under and over.
The End is the Beginning. Karma.
All that religion and philosophy and bullshit was true.
His Father, his grandmother, they knew what to expect out of life.
You made your own nest--or you fouled it.
A man always pays for his sins. Eventually.
Joe Fisk shook his head with moist eyes.
He wasn’t any good at despair. It was too self-indulgent.
He was a failed policeman who had turned to Private investigation.
Last rung on the ladder to Hell.
Cops...old cops...what was it they did?
He finally remembered. They went Blue Canary.
(Coal miners used a canary down in the mine to let them know when the air turned toxic. A dead canary meant it was time to get the hell out.)
Cops and old detectives went Blue Canary.
It meant slow suicide by going soft -- trying some impossible Mitzvah, some heroic good deed to clear the slate on a bad conscience for all the bad shit!
Did it work? Playing hero?
Is God gonna smile at the end and say, “Nice try, Joseph! Come on up"?
He was self-hating Jew. He’d changed his name.
Joseph Goldman had climbed into a different identity: Joe Fisk.
There was no heaven. There was no Paradise.
There was black coffee, hard justice. PERIOD!
Joe Fisk started the blue Maverick and found the gear.
It was worth a try.
For old time’s sake.
Fisk flicked his eyes up into the rear view mirror.
"What would Mike Hammer do?"
He knew the answer already. It was on his hand-lettered sign his Father had printed for him.
The 1970 Blue Ford Maverick kicked up a cloud of dust like the Lone Ranger’s horse, Silver, on that old black and white TV at his Bubbe’s house.
“I’m dissipated but I ain’t licked yet, Bubbe. You get what you give.”
It would be half past Four when Fisk would pull up in front of his ironic “Detective” Agency sign. Yeah, ironic. He had argued with the sign painter and pissed him off--so
the bastard had climbed back up on his scaffold and added the big quotation marks around the word “Detective”--as if to say--’Don’t be fooled by this shlemiel.”
Now Fisk enjoyed seeing himself as ironic.
It fit his self image not a little.
As he pulled up to the front of his storefront office he saw it.
The window was busted.
Blood pooled on the steps.
A body curled into a fetal position waited to greet him.
After the cops arrived, he got the word. The corpse was Bram Clegg - the big Dutchman.
How in hell?
It was impossible for Rosie’s husband to just walk out of that office, jump into a fast car and race over to Fisk’s place and get himself murdered BEFORE Joe himself arrived.
He gave his story to the Chief of Police and got a free lecture for his trouble.
Now it was time to shape up, get serious and--just get real.
He spoke it aloud.
“It’s up to me to repair what’s broken in this world.
This one’s for you, Pop. Mazel Tov!”
black coffee, hard justice by T. Walstrom
Note: recorded on a lousy Memo recorder on my iPhone :)