Mark got off the bus fifteen blocks from home. For one thing, walking burned off energy, and he had a couple of days to kill. The whole doctor’s visit thing had stressed him out, more than he cared to think about. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. It might get a lot more invasive when he saw the parole officer.
The fact that he was actually guilty of an offense wasn’t much of a help. That one should never have happened.
He wanted to think about Amy, which was a good feeling but there were still questions.
There were always going to be questions. He knew so little about her, her life, her family, where she was coming from and where she might be going. They really needed to sit and talk, rather than just screwing all the time…she was an amazing girl.
He couldn’t get over it, but.
It was a hell of a thought.
Am I really that bad?
Do I really hate myself that much.
That was another kind of a thought.
With only the grubby white parka for a coat, Mark had left it at home. He was relying on the thickest of his undershirts, and wearing two shirts, a thin cotton one of his own and a thicker, corduroy one that Duke had given him. Even so, it was a distinctly chilly sort of day in spite of the brilliant sunshine. It was barely tolerable in the sun, and cold as hell in the shade. You really had to hustle along to build up a bit of body heat. He wasn’t the only one pushing the season. It said something about people slugging along the sidewalks, hands in pockets and clearly shivering in thin slacks and cotton shirts and not much else. He’d always marveled at the girls in their skirts, with the cold breeze going right up there all the time and their bare toes sticking out.
No wonder women were rebelling.
Nothing beats a good pair of socks, when you get right down to it.
Mark made a couple of stops at thrift stores along the route. While there were one or two nice jackets there, neither one was quite long enough in the sleeves for him. The prices were such on these desirable items—both dark brown leather bomber jackets, that if Mark was going to buy one, it had damned well better fit.
|"Anything's better than a white nylon parka, Baby."|
Not finding anything else, his mind curiously blank regarding household furnishings—although a lamp or two might be nice if he ever got a couch, he walked the last six blocks in a deadened mood.
One more stop, for no particular reason. Browsing the music shop wasn’t much fun, without a record player and not much in the way of disposable income. It had been years. The band names lately were incomprehensible. Names like The Velvet Raincoat, Toe Jam, the Cantaloupes, and the Insects, for crying out loud, it didn’t make any kind of sense. It was a whole new generation of kids coming up, and it was like they had their own language.
It was the highly-symbolic and completely arbitrary language of rebellion, fueled mostly by hyper-active glands and a lot of pimple cream. In that sense, it didn’t have to make any sense at all, and the kids would love it.
|Ye olde record shoppe.|
Out on the road and with no real permanent home, all of that had fallen by the wayside. It would be nice to think that things might be different, and hopefully in the not-too-distant future. Band members couldn’t bring much along with them on the bus or the train, and record-players were bulky and all too easily damaged. Instead of listening to music, you got to play it yourself. Yet in order to get something good, you also had to give up something good—which was leisure, or security, or financial success, or whatever.
If only he knew what to do next.
The usual gang of suspects were sitting on the porch when he arrived. The difference was that he knew some of them by now, including his would-be mugger. The kid, who couldn’t be much over fourteen or fifteen, smiled and nodded a bit sheepishly upon seeing him. Tall for his age, it was no substitute for experience, or even just maturity.
Mark lifted his eyebrows in acknowledgement and kept on moving. The stairwell smelled, of cooking, tobacco smoke and something else, hopefully not urine. So far, the building seemed okay on that score. Some buildings were a lot worse, that much was for sure.
When he opened up his apartment door, Duke was already there, waiting for him. He must have used the fire escape.
Sooner or later, Mark would have to talk to Duke about that sort of thing—
“Hey, man. I seen that cop again—at least I think it was him.”
“What? Who? Which one?” Mark immediately thought of Lang and Stubbs and his heart sank a little.
Some guys just couldn’t take a hint. They seemed to have a bit of a thing for one Mark Jones, well-known community psychopath…killer, stalker, little-girl slasher.
“Yeah. I think it was him. I was just coming down the hall and he was hanging around outside your door.” Duke had gone to another apartment where he knew no one was home.
He knocked, got no answer and so he went away again, keeping it as plausible as possible in his words.
“You mean, like a uniformed cop?”
“Ah. Did this guy have…ah, shit. Blue eyes, silver hair going straight up? Glasses, anything like that? Six-foot one or two, well over two hundred pounds, but not fat—gun on the hip?” O’Hara didn’t do the shoulder-holster thing for some reason.
He wasn’t trying to hide the fact that he was a cop, or that he was armed. He wasn’t too worried about being cool.
“Sky blue blazer, white shirt, red tie?”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
Unusually for him, Duke hadn’t immediately reached for his pocket. Finally he pulled out a crumpled pack of Marlboro’s and offered Mark a slightly bent one. He took it but stuck it behind the ear for later. Smoking was not too swift for a horn-player. More than one career had been destroyed by the unfortunate tendency for a big chunk of phlegm to come flying out and gum up the works, and usually just in the middle of a difficult passage to boot. You either quit smoking or people got real tired of you. Pretty darned quick.
“Fuck. I wonder what the hell he wanted…”
“So, who was that?”
“It sure sounds like O’Hara. A fucking detective. He’s the one that sent me to the welfare office. Shit. Here’s your ten bucks, incidentally.”
Mark pulled out his thin and worn leather wallet, a gift from his aunt many years before.
“Thanks, man.” The look on Duke’s face told Mark that he’d been thinking about that ten bucks, but had been sort of hesitant to bring it up.
“Oh, hey, no problem. Ah…how much is a bag of pot?”
Duke brightened up a little more.
“Five and dime, just like I said.”
“Yeah, but what does that mean, Duke? Bear in mind, I’m just new to all of this—although I have smoked the stuff once or twice before.” It was a part of the scene, and while Mark wasn’t crazy about it, he had in fact had one or two puffs over the years just to be sociable.
You could hardly escape the smell of it in bars, clubs, or at private parties, and he’d never made a big thing of it. Stepping out the stage door, into an alley and half the band was there puffing away, and what were you supposed to do, what were you supposed to say?
It was a part of the scene, an acknowledged, some would say important part of it. The whole lifestyle was an alternative to square-ness, and pot was just one element of the attitude.
Buying the shit was another thing, but Amy seemed to take having it and smoking it as a matter of course. She was ten years younger than Mark, and had that college experience to account for it. He was pretty sure she hadn’t been a virgin either.
It might help Duke out, in fact it probably would. Duke didn’t get welfare for some reason. It was a bummer, but he must have his reasons, because virtually anyone could get it. Whereas a loan might not be such a good idea—he was a dope dealer after all. His future would be nothing if not uncertain.
Mark could only afford to help out so much, but it might help the guy. How Duke made it through a month was a pretty good question. His habits seemed relatively expensive, and about as regular as clockwork.
“Well, hey, dude. You get a quarter ounce for five bucks, a half an ounce for ten bucks. It’s good grass, man, the same shit you’ve been smoking.” He went on. “An ounce for thirty. You can sell a half a bag and get a half a bag for ten dinero. That’s pretty cheap smoke.”
Mark nodded, reaching into the wallet again for a five. There was such a thing as hospitality as well.
“Yeah, well, I don’t want to sell dope.” It’s not like Mark really knew anyone that wanted any. “That’s more of a pain in the ass than anything.”
Not real diplomatic, but true as far as Mark was concerned. It was also illegal. It was a game for losers.
Besides, he had work now…you really don’t want to screw that up.
On that thought, Mark turned and headed for the fridge to get Duke a beer.
Beer now, beer was cheap and legal. No one had the right to question it.
O’Hara. What in the fuck was he doing here?
Yeah. It had to be him—
For whatever reason.
Either the guy really gave a shit for some reason—liking jazz or whatever, or they had another dead body on their hands and some reason to believe it was all connected. He really didn’t impress as being queer, although the family portrait was no guarantee. The jazz world had its own brand of queer and Mark was not unfamiliar with the phenomenon. A lot of them married, somehow impregnated a woman, had three kids and a dog and lived a double life.
Hopefully O’Hara wasn’t after his ass—
For that, I would buy a knife.
And use it.
The key thing was not to get angry, not to get uptight.
The thing was to let it roll off of him, like water from a duck’s back.
For the first time, they had gone up to Duke’s apartment. O’Hara was looking for Mark, who didn’t much want to be found. Also the wind direction was just right. The smoke would go out the window, and since it was getting close to payday, people would be looking for Duke anyways, looking for fronts. Duke didn’t have a phone. He weighed up seven grams of buds for Mark, and let him have a couple of rolling papers. Nothing beats a cash sale, and he was always happy to smoke a sampler.
“These buds are dry. Nice and hard, and it’s still a full finger.” According to Duke, an ounce of weed would be four fingers in a baggie.
Mark hadn’t seen a set of triple-beam scales since high school science class. Apparently the dope world had converted to the metric system quite a long time ago…
“Half a bag, two fingers.”
Whatever the hell that meant. Between Amy and Duke, Mark was learning a whole new language.
Duke rolled up a joint and sparked it.
Having left a note for Amy, who still didn’t have a key but would probably try the window, Mark could only hope that being out of the loop for a while would be okay. There was also the horrible feeling that he should be trying to control something. Shit was happening and he didn’t know what it was. O’Hara was bad news. Pure, gut instinct. One way or another.
“So. Tell me about Maude. What’s up there, dude?”
“Oh, man, I don’t know.” Sex was one thing, a relationship might be another. “It’s like she’s got these motherly instincts. At the same time, she’s completely housebound and sort of a born dependent. I mean, she’s nice and everything.”
Maude was dumb as a stick and accident-prone. She was the first person who had ever shown Duke any kindness. He laughed when he said it. He shrugged a lot when he talked about her.
Duke went on to explain about her illness, the fact that she was on medications, and pretty much unemployable by anybody’s standards for pretty much any line of work he could name.
She wasn’t Duke’s cup of tea, apparently, and yet he was still blushing.
Maude was forty years old, had never been married, and had never had a baby.
Theoretically, this explained much in psychological terms. All those motherly instincts.
(End of Part Twenty-Two.)
Thanks for reading.
This is The Golden Dragon, the seventh in The Inspector Gilles Maintenon Mystery Series.