When I came to there was glass and brass on the floor beside me. I could tell by the crime scene before me it had been my lamp. The lamp was junk, but it was practical. I got a lot of use out of it. It gave light to a dark place. And I liked that.
When I was finally able to sit up and look around, I found a .45 was pointed right at me. This time it wasn’t a cowboy slug. No. It was Mary-Lou. I couldn’t mistake that body. Even with what little light there was coming in from the streetlights outside those curves sang of sweet sheet music. I could almost hear the Muses weep with envy.
“What the hell is wrong with you?”
“I’m sorry, Frank. I didn’t know if it was going to be you or Bixby . . . Or even Lon.”
In the old days a man would smack a woman around a bit. Rattle her cage. Show her who had the gavel swinging between his legs. It doesn’t mean his actions were justified, it just meant he lacked the resolve of a real man. No hero ever hit a woman, although he probably wanted to . . . I sure as hell wanted to let Mary-Lou have it right then. But I remembered a fortune cookie I read once, ’You are angry, Jupiter. Therefore you are wrong.’ So I kept my cool. What the hell.
I shrugged. Pulled out a smoke. Lit it. Took a few drags.
“What happened to Bermuda?”
“I couldn’t just leave, Frank. Where would I go. And what would I do when I got there. ”
“You should’ve gone anywhere but here. Snyder’s still on the hunt for you and your pops. In fact, he gave me some green to bring you in myself.”
I sat up and gained my focus. I felt a line of blood making its way down the side of my head.
“You wouldn’t do that, would you, Frank?”
“You still want to take a look at my book collection?”
I got up. Made a move towards her. She backed away. Played hard to get. I grabbed her and pulled her close. She slapped me across the face.
She was a boiling cauldron of bitches brew.
“Just a little leg.”
She smacked me again.
“You really know how to tease a man.”
“This isn’t the time.”
She looked around the small room, at my desk and the papers scattered everywhere like dead leaves. Empty bottles on the desk.
“Nor the place.“
I couldn’t blame her.
I moved over to my desk and poured a tall one. Downed it. Offered one to Mary-Lou. She wasn’t having it. But she needed it. I could tell. I drank hers down. Poured another. Threw it back. Mary-Lou came towards me. Took a seat right. She put one leg over the other. The light from outside slashed across her face revealing her narrow eyes. Snake-like. Brilliantly mesmerizing.
“Have you had any luck on my father’s whereabouts?” She asked pulling out a cigarette and lighting it.
“I’ve got a hunch.”
“A hunch isn’t go to save my life, Frank. Or my father’s.”
“I think he’s being held captive in a warehouse outside the city with Bixby and his boys. And the sooner we get him the sooner we can stop Snyder and those damn Exos from taking over.”
“The . . . what?”
“Don’t play dumb with me, sister. I know what’s going on. A man should know when his time’s up. You can almost hear the trumpets.”
“But Frank, I . . .”
“Don’t ‘But Frank’ me. There’s work to be done.”
I told Mary-Lou little of what I knew. Jake’s package to Bixby. What Hal’s informant told him. Unit X-9. I gave her just enough to wet her lips. There was no reason to give her the meat of it. No reason to go into detail about human bondage and our mechanical counterparts.
“Are you sure my father is at this warehouse?”
“As sure as saints shit.”
“Uh . . . Is that a yes?”
“It means I’m going to find out.”
“Then I’m coming with you.”
“Now’s not the time to prove you can sing, sweet heart. We don’t know what Snyder and Bixby are up to in there. What’s waiting for us.”
She held the gun up. Pointed it at me.
“I’m not as helpless as you think.”
“Would you put that thing down!”
I reached across the desk and grab the gun from her hands.
“Why don’t you leave the gun play to the boys.”
“I’m coming with you, Frank.”
She was getting frazzled. I liked it. I could only hope she didn’t get camera shy. Otherwise we’d both get spurred . . . A bird in the hand. That’s what this was turning out to be. That meant she’d be bait for Bixby. Bertram was in there. I was sure of it. Locked up by Silver Tongue Snyder to finish the work he needed done. Maybe Snyder set the whole thing in motion. Knew Mary-Lou would get worried and come looking for her old man so he could swoop her up too and finish them both when the job was done, whatever it was Bertram was working on. Like a snake biting its tail this whole thing was one big circle.
I rang up Jake again. This time he picked up.
“What did you do to my mom, Frank?”
“Nothing Nature didn’t intend to happen.”
“She nearly died!”
“That’s always a possibility when you leave the couch.”
The kid took it personally. I should’ve known not to insult someone’s mother. But what the hell. Jake needed to let off steam. I let him. Why not. I needed to know what he knew. After all, aren’t they just sounds coming out of a fool’s mouth?
“You’re a dipshit, Frank. You’re a shithead, son of a bitch, shit-stain, ass-wipe, dumbass, you asshole.
“Why don’t you tell me how you really feel.”
“I’m just getting started you fart sniffer, ball guzzler, cock gobbler, taint licker, fuck-stick, dumb-fuck, fuck-head, ass-fucking motherfucker.”
Then Jake moved away from the waist towards a more colorful realm I never thought he knew. He told me I was a masochistic neanderthal with shit for brains who couldn’t tell the difference between a cumquat and a cunt, and was squeezed out of my mother’s vagina a full blown halfwit. That I was a delusional, dick-nosed sleuth who couldn’t get it up and got my rocks off by sniffing old books and a bumpkin dandy who swallowed farts from a horse’s ass through a funnel and gave mouth massages to an elephant’s balls.
“How Rabelaian of you, Jake.”
His breathing began to slow. I could tell some sense was making its way back into his brain. As much as there could be.
“Listen, kid. I need to know when the deal with the cowboys was supposed to go down, and I need to know now.”
“Tomorrow. At Midnight . . . Why?”
I hung up. Looked up at Mary-Lou. I could tell she was curious about what Jake said. I didn’t say anything. I let her sit there, waiting. The streetlight outside flickered. Our shadows came and went on the wall beside us like two souls trying to keep their place in the world. I drank down the glass in my hand. Listened to the night. Mary-Lou was blowing smoke. Ruminating. Worried, no doubt, if everything would be alright in the end. As for me, I wasn’t thinking about a damn thing.
“You owe me a lamp.”