The name’s Berringer . . . Frank Berringer.
I’m a private dick. A snoop. A no good bird-dog. People pay me to clean up their dirty laundry . . . And I always get my man.
I had just closed the book on another stolen identity case. Some skin-job walking around impersonating an elderly woman. Grey hair. Wrinkles. The whole bit. It had everyone else fooled, but not me. When the boys in blue showed up they gave me a hard time. Tried to push me around. I flashed my tin. They backed off. Said they’d take her in for questioning. Hell, I could’ve proved it right there if they would’ve let me pull that wig off. It was on there good. Must’ve been one of those new EXO-6 models. Top of the line. Anyway, it was their problem. Not mine.
I turned down 122nd street. Parked the Volks’ after a couple blocks and walked the rest of the way home. This far out the sidewalks are a ghost town.
I was renting a room in some dump outside the city. The name had a quiet, clean sound to it . . . Suburbia . . . It was anything but. More of a fool’s paradise, where dreams rot like apples in the sun . . . But the rent was cheap, so there was that. Had this place not sucked the soul out of life, my landlady, Mrs. Kelter, might’ve turned out a decent looking number. She might’ve got the white picket fence and the Saturday barbecues. Only it didn’t happen that way. Her old man left her with a kid and alimony. After that she bought the building then took a seat on the couch. That was that. A single mother raising a young man probably wasn’t easy. It’s a whole hell of a lot easier to give the boy cash to split so she didn’t have to deal with it. The two of them did nothing all day anyway but drink and scream at each other. I shrugged. It wasn’t any of my business.
When I got to the door I could hear Mrs. Kelter screaming at her son Jake from the top of the stairs. Jake was a degenerate everything. Pill popper. Coke head. Alcoholic. Whatever he could get his hands on. I once caught him downing detergent. I couldn’t judge him though, Mrs. Kelter was a horse’s ass, and twice as wide as one. Plus he got me good grass when I needed it.
I entered the place. Jake was standing by the door when I walked in.
“I gave you a hundred dollars yesterday! What the hell do you need more for?” The old bag was yelling down from the top of the stairs.
“Fine! I don’t need it then! I’ll just starve!”
“Don’t be ridiculous!”
“You don’t even care about me!”
Jake slammed the door behind me and was gone. I headed for my room.
“And where the hell do you think your going in such a hurry? You got my rent, dick?”
I looked up. Mrs. Kelter was puffing on a long white cigarette like a steaming kettle.
“It’s in the mail.”
“You better hope so! I don’t need another louse hanging around here!”
She’d been drinking. I could smell her from where I stood. It was the mixture of cheap wine and sweat. It was seeping out of her. Her chin was glistening between the folds.
I opened my door and went in.
My room was small. It consisted of a bed, a dresser, some records and a few stacks of books. I had my own library. Something for every occasion. From Hammett to Cervantes. The classics. The epics. The poets. You name it, I probably had it. But that doesn’t mean much. Books are a dying thing. And that’s nothing new.
I threw on Trane’s Naima then grabbed the decanter off my dresser and poured a tall one. Downed it. Poured another. I picked up I, The Jury and laid down. The story isn’t Shakespeare, but by the title you know someone’s going to die. Someone has to.
I polished off the second drink and opened the book. Things were getting heavy. After some time my eyes felt heavy themselves and soon I was asleep, the book open on my chest.
Before I woke I could sense a silence around me. Nothing stirred.
That’s odd, I thought. I can’t even hear Mrs. Kelter snoring like a bull moose.
A bright light grew increasingly hotter against my face. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead, then rolled across and down my temples. When I opened my eyes I was staring up at a blank blue sky. The sun burning like an oven. I quickly stood up and looked around. Nothing but dirt and rock and cacti as far as the eye could see. All rust colored dust.
Where the hell am I? What’s going on? I studied the area around me. No sign of footprints. No tire tracks. Nothing. There was no sound and no movement. Even the breeze was laying low.
Three large forms began to take shape on the ground around me. Soft shades of darkened earth moving along the desert landscape. They circled wide, each moving at different speeds. I looked up and stared down the sun, my hand cupped over my eyes. Three ravens were flying around up there, waiting. I reached for my snub nose, but it wasn’t there.
Damn! It’s your lucky day, birdies.
I pointed my finger at them, took aim and let it rip.
“Pew. . . Pew . . . Pew.”
Suddenly I heard something move in the sagebrush behind me. I turned to face the thing. A rattlesnake slithered out into the open. I stepped back cautiously and watched the slithering thing. The fucker headed towards me. It spoke.
“Lisssten closssely, ssson of Man. Sssoon the ssselessstial sssyssstem will ssshift and the sssun will ssscorch the sssity. “
“Uhh . . . What?”
The reptile continued towards me. I parried.
“The ssserpent sssymbol will ssshow you.”
“Right, and you’re Quetzalcoatl.”
“Sssoon. Ssssoon you will sssee, ssstupid.“
“Who you callin’ stupid, you little worm?”
The rattler coiled up and shook its tail like a castanet, making ready to strike.
“You, you sssimian!”
I eased off.
“Fair enough . . . Say I believe you, what am I supposed to do about it?”
“Sssearch your sssoul.”
“Ahh go bite your tail.”
“Sssuffering will be the cossst of your ssselfissshnesss.“
“Yea yea, I’ve heard this all before. The bell tolls for thee. I get it. Now get lost.”
The rattler started off and before it could get far one of the ravens swooped down in a flashing streak of blurring blackness and snatched it off the ground. In no time it was already high up in the air with the snake wriggling between its beak. The other two birds circled then dove in and attacked, ripping the snake into pieces. Each flew off with their own share of the bounty.
Now that’s equality, I said to the empty space around me.
I stood there for a moment wondering what had just taken place, whether or not I should give a damn. I looked at the ground. Beside me there was a cactus, bulbous and hairy with long thin spikes standing at attention. I wondered how bad would it hurt if I slammed my foot down on it. Nothing compared to a lobotomy, I’m sure. But this could all be nonsense.
“What the hell. I’m no pansy.”
I took my shoes and socks off, lifted my leg high and stomped down on the horned bastard.