I woke up with my head on my desk and a full glass of whiskey in my hand. I sat up. Threw it back. Belched for good measure . . . This whole thing started out a mistake, like a terrible book I read once. And it was only going to get worse. It always does. Right up to the last page. But I had no time to worry about that kind of nonsense, like pocket lint, or what a sneeze would feel like if it came out our ears. My mind was on Bertram Welles and his gift to every asshole under the sun, praising folly . . . Even me.
Maybe Bertram figured out a way to harness the magnetic poles of the Earth to sling shot a train on a metal rail around the equator of the globe so we could travel at over a thousand miles an hour. Maybe he connected all the neurons in the human mind with all the stars in the Milky Way and realized that human potential is infinite so long as the constellations in our heads align with the direction of our lives . . . Hell, I’d be happy if he just figured out a cure for the common hangover. A pill that could snap us back to normality in a matter of minutes.
I turned in my chair. Fading light cut through my window and slashed across my face. I lit a smoke. Blew a grey cloud into the room.
I shrugged. Poured another one. Downed that one too.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door.
A tall, lean character entered. He was wearing a cowboy hat and snakeskin boots. Had a face like a coyote. Two cowboy goons followed in after him and stood at his side, one at each shoulder.
“Look what the rodeo shit out.”
Coyote Face spoke.
“Sure, when he’s not around.”
I saw the metal glint at his waist. It was a Colt. I felt under my desk. My snub-nose was there. Ready. The three of them moved forward. Coyote Face took a seat in front of my desk and looked around the place. The other two stood behind him.
“This is a fine place you’ve got here, Mr. Berringer. It suits you just right.”
I looked around. There was paper everywhere. Scattered on my desk. Stacks here and there. Some strewn all over the floor like confetti.
“I’ll pass your compliment along to my tailor.”
Coyote Face chuckled out of the corner of his mouth. Spit a wad of brown juice on the floor, right on a stack of paper. It splashed into a rorschach that reminded me of a saint. I forget which one.
“That’s a good one. I’ll have to remember that,” said Coyote Face with a straight face.
I was sick of him already.
“Did you and your boys come here to play grab-ass, or did you wanna play Cowboys and Indians? I could use a few more scalps.”
“I’ve got a message for’yuh.”
“If it’s from my ex, tell that mosquito I don’t have to pay alimony for another week.”
“Keep away from Miss Welles if you know what’s good for’yuh.”
“I never have. Ask my ex.”
“This ain’t no funny business, Jack.”
“The name’s Frank.”
“I don’t give a good-goddamn what your name is.”
“And what’ll you do if I give her a little love-tap of encouragement?”
“You’ll find yourself in a world of hell.”
I took note of the bolo around his neck. It was a gold snake coiled in the shape of an “S”.
“Hell huh . . . I’ve heard of it . . . Not my kind of place. I prefer Bermuda,” I said, leaning back in my chair.
“Are you some kind of moron, Mr. Berringer?”
“More like a morosopher. And there’s a difference.”
“All the same, I reckon you better have another drink or two . . . Consider this a warning.”
He tipped his hat.
His goons moved in. I poured another drink. Downed it. One of them grabbed me. The last thing I remember I had my teeth in one of their arms and another one by the balls. Only, it wasn’t enough. Then it all went black.
It was late when I came to. I think they broke a rib. One of them must’ve kicked me when I was down. Cowboy pricks.
I got up. Flicked on the light. Looked in the mirror. There was a patch of drying blood on the side of my head. Some made its way down my neck and shoulder. It went well with the claw marks on my face.
The phone rang and scared the shit out of me.
I picked it up.
“Where’s my money you asshole?”
It was Nancy, my ex-wife.
“Oh it’s you.”
“Yea it’s me! Where the hell’s my money?”
“It’s in the mail.”
“It better be.”
“Give me a break, alright. I had a rough day.”
“It’ll get rough if you don’t pay on time!”
“Monetaryitus is a terrible disease, you know. You should get that checked out.”
She hung up.
I poured another drink. Threw it back.
I picked up the newspaper on my desk and opened it to see what else had gone wrong. There was the usual political charade of left versus right. All of them playing their part as far as I could see. Greasing each other’s palms. Shaking hands when the cameras turned off . . . The rest was bad news as usual. Death from another virus outbreak. More humans placed in encampments. Millions of animals burnt to a crisp down-under. More death from war in the Middle East. More pain and misery. More death and suffering . . . I knew good things were happening somewhere. They just didn’t generate as much revenue.
I’m in the wrong business, I thought.
I folded up the paper and tossed it aside. I’d had enough bad news for one day. Plus I figured it was time to call it a night.
I drove home.
The house was quiet. Mrs. Kelter was passed out on the couch with a glass of wine in her hand. She farted like a Clydesdale and almost woke herself up.
I crept to my room and closed the door.
I needed money, fast. That was certain. If I didn’t crack this case soon I’d be out of a place to live and up Shits Creek with legal problems.
I thought about selling some stuff. Looked around. Realized I had nothing.