Monday, May 4, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 077 - Cormac Brown

GOING TO SEE A WHALE ABOUT A MAN - CORMAC BROWN

There was a play written by the Irish-born playwright Dion Boucicault which was staged back in 1866 called, “The Flying Scud.” You don’t know the play, I don’t know it, and quite frankly, I doubt even the most studious and diligent of scholars know it. At any rate, the only thing that has survived of the play is just one phrase: every time one of the characters would get into a difficult or tricky situation, he would say, "Excuse me, Mr. Quail, I can't stop; I've got to see a man about a dog."

So when there are pricked ears, be they feds, be they police or be they people leaning in your conversation (all pricks to my line of work, you should know), what do you say? That’s right, “I’m going to see a man about a dog.” In my case? I’m going to see a whale to see about a man. The whale in particular is a go-between named Orca, a formerly fat man who has recently had liposuction done, but he is in a desperate, desperate need of a tuck as he is almost all sagging skin.

Anyway, I have to talk to Orca about a change in careers. I used to hit jewel couriers and rob jewelry stores, but I’ve gotten a little too good with those specialties and so, I’ve had to go on hiatus until my profile goes back under the radar. So I need him to give me a referral and he has me meeting him in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night. Even as dark as it is, I can see the whites of his eyes darting around and he is as nervous as a whore in church about something.

I should walk away from this, but my more recent financial setbacks are telling me to be patient for just a little longer.

“Here,” Orca mumbles and he hands me a piece of paper. He flaps the few steps into his car and takes off, and I do mean “flaps.” That just doesn’t occur in nature, and he really needs to needs to get that loose skin taken care of.

Being in the boonies is not enough to dissuade prying eyes, and the tint on my car’s windows won’t deter night scopes, so I keep the paper low. It has the address to a Mexican restaurant on Pacific Avenue, just north of Long Beach, and it says to be there at 8 PM to meet Kieran. I set the paper on fire and then I remember that cars don’t have ashtrays anymore. I quickly roll down the window and I drop it down on the ground, no G. Gordon Liddy holding my hand to the flame here. I make sure that it burns up, I stamp the ashes and I’m off like a dress on prom night.

*

It’s not a real Mexican restaurant. You can tell because the only Latinos are in the kitchen. It’s always a bad sign when a particular cuisine is served at a restaurant and not one native indigenous to the same country bothers to eat there. Not to mention that every plate that leaves the kitchen here is covered in cheddar. You ask, “How does he know that all the Mexicans and Latinos in the restaurant are in the kitchen?” Because I’ve scoped the place out, just as I did with the Orca meet.

You ask, “How does he know it’s cheddar?” Because I’ve seen the block of the stuff that they are grating off of, as the apparent owner of the place stares at me and wonders just who the hell is this bastard that is pinching cheese shavings as he surveys the kitchen.

I’ve never met Kieran, but his reputation is larger than life among those in my profession. His information allegedly is always rock-solid, he always provides a fair up-front price and he doesn’t screw you on the completion of the job. That doesn’t mean that I trust him and the fact that I’ve never been convicted as adult, despite being arrested five times, has nothing to do with the competency of the lawyers that I’ve hired.

You can’t be too careful and unfortunately this is where you are at the mercy of the client, because you don’t know if he or she might use you as a sacrifice to get out of some mess that they’re in. And it might not be the cops or the Feds that they are offering you up to, but it could be somebody that you stole from in the not too distant past.

Orca did tell me before I drove out here, “Don’t piss Kieran off, don’t fuck with him and don’t short him either. If you do any one of those three? Some of you will wind up in dog food cans, some of you will be sloshing around in the chum buckets of the fisherman that do tours out of Catalina Island, and the rest will be bonemeal for plants.”

I’m trying to figure out which of these quasi-tourists are Kieran and then I decide it’s the only patron that is eating alone and sitting with his back to the wall. I must say I am a little underwhelmed. This guy is a thin man of medium height and he has an average face. His blue eyes, and the shock of hair that has nearly gone stark white, are the only things that stick out. As a matter of fact, it seems more likely that he would be an accountant, an insurance agent or a writer. It’s a good thing I know better than to underestimate him.

“Did ya try the cheese?” he says in a thick Irish brogue.

“Uh, yeah, unfortunately I did,” I reply. I grab a glass from a nearby tray to wash down the foul pasty taste of the orange stuff, and I find out that the water is even more foul. I wonder why there are so many customers here.

“Yer wondering why there are so many people here,” he reads my mind…or he is just observing me observing the obvious? “The beer is ridiculously cheap here, and if ya asked me ahead of time, I could’ve told you that just like South of the Border, no good will come outta drinkin’ the water here.”

As I sit down, I notice that Kieran is twice as good as I am at scanning a room. You wouldn’t know that he’s taking everything in, unless you too had pay attention to everything in order to stay out of jail and stay alive. His eyes go to the front door as he raises his beer, and then they go to the bathroom as he puts the glass down. His eyes widen ever-so-slightly as they return to the front door, and that’s tipped me off that something is about to go down.

From their angry mumbling, I’m guessing that they are Vietnamese, but I don’t know Vietnamese from Laotian. I do know that they have guns, because they are doing such a poor job of disguising this fact, that I can see this in the dirty mirrors behind Kieran. I’m screwed because they’ve taken up position behind me, and any move on my part at this time will most likely get me shot. Kieran has his right hand under a napkin on the table and I guarantee that’s not a fork under it.

“Gentlemen, to what do I owe the pleasure?” Kieran lays it on thick, solely for the benefit of the diners. Despite the beer-filled haze, everyone in here seems to have figured out that these guys aren’t here as some kind of new alternate entertainment for a mariachi band. The one behind me with the pink and green gel-covered hair, straight out of an anime, leans over me and puts a gun in my back.

“Orca works for you,” Mr. Anime Hair seethes and Kieran nods. “So long as we agree upon that, you owe us money.”

“The Devil ya say,” smirks Kieran, “I don’t know ya from Adam.”

“All you need to know is that Orca is into us for thirty large, and if he doesn’t pay up by midnight, it’ll go up to forty-five.”

Two of Mr. Anime Hair’s buddies surge forward like dogs barely being held back by their chains. I count six of them altogether, and most importantly to me, if any shit goes down, Mr Anime Hair will plug me before I can react.

With a short chuckle, Kieran holds up his hands and says, “As I’ve said, I don’t know ya from Adam.” Kieran’s right hand returns to under the napkin. “And obviously, you don’t me either. Because if ya did? You’d know that I’m not a man of violence, but a man who abhors gambling.

“I don’t gamble, because I don’t like losing and I only play sure things. Now ya best believe that the followin’ that I tell you is a sure thing: If I lose my temper? You’ll lose more than your lives, because I’ll take a minimum of three of ya with me as I leave the world. But the game won’t end there, because those of ya that walk out of here? Ya won’t know a day of peace, for whatever time that will be left of yer short lives. That’s just for starters, because I’ve got family that love revenge so much more than they’ve ever loved me, and this’ll give ’em impetus to do things to yer families that even The Devil himself would find repulsive.”

The restaurant has gotten so quiet that I swear I can hear the meat sizzling on the grill all the way in the kitchen. The gun shifts on my back and now it is time to kiss my ass goodbye. The gun pulls away and so does Mr. Anime Hair. I see the rest of his friends go, one by one in the mirror, save for the youngest. He’s working himself up so much that he is on the verge of turning rabid.

Kieran scratches his chin with the back of his left hand and the little punk stiffles a yelp, and scatters like a kicked puppy. I exhale, and basically, so does the whole restaurant. Kieran resumes eating and he makes a face. The food seems to be bothering him more than the situation.

“Good cerveza or not, I’ve got to stop eating here; the food is atrocious.”

I briefly turn around, curious if they’re going to retaliate with a drive-by. Kieran finishes his beer and takes his gun out from under his napkin.

I whisper, “Uh, I’m just curious…are you going to pay them?”

Kieran smiles, a handsome smile if I say so myself, and he replies, “Oh, no. I might have, if they had been up front and asked me, instead of ruinin’ me dinner.”

“Then what’s going to happen to Orca?”

“Not a damn thing; he wouldn’t borrow money from the likes of them. It’s probably a relation of his that owes, or one of his women.”

I choose my words carefully, then I say, “I’m not trying to intrude, but I just want to know if I should be looking over my shoulder.”

Kieran’s smile disappears, and his eyes go from blue to cold steel. His face resembles a Gaelic take on an African war mask.

“Look…this is between them, The Devil and me. God doesn’t want to know about any of this and quite frankly, neither do you.”

“Fair enough. Sláinte,” I toast and finish my water, instantly regretting this mental hiccup. Kieran’s smile returns and pushes an envelope across the table.

“All ya need to know is in there, I’ll be seein’ ya.”

I put the envelope in my jacket, he gives me a wink and we shake hands.

I walk out of the restaurant and I inhale the fine ocean air. The Vietnamese crew is nowhere to be found…for now. I get in my car and do four right turns twice, to make sure that no one is tailing me. I get on the freeway and then I get off in Carson, because it’s time to open the envelope and see what the job is.

The first thing I see is a picture of the owner of the jewels and I laugh; her family probably owns over three thousand hotels worldwide. I look the logistics over and this job is somewhat beneath my skills, and more than just a little screwy. I’m not the best safecracker in the world, but she apparently doesn’t even bother to keep her jewels in her safe at all. She just leaves them in the jewelry cases on her dresser and in her dresser drawers, like they are costume jewelry.

So did the owner hire us out for a fraud scam? I’m fairly certain that her insurance company has clauses against paying out for client negligence like this, regardless of her celebrity. Did she piss off her ex-friend with that “firecrotch” remark? Kieran is Irish, but I doubt that’s the connection.

Is this an ambush? Paranoia comes naturally in this line of work, and I’ve certainly stepped on enough toes of some powerful people to merit a double-cross. Yet with Kieran in on this, I would’ve been dog and fish food back when I met Orca, because that would’ve been the place to kill me. And what the hell is going on with Orca? Did he borrow the money from that gang for his lipo?

I start the car and soon I’m back on the 405. There are a lot of unanswered questions that I cannot dwell on right now…all I do know is that I’m going to see a blonde about some jewels.

BIO: "Cormac Brown" is my pen name. I'm an up-and-slumming writer in the city of Saint Francis, and I'm following in the footsteps of Hammett...minus the TB and working for the Pinkerton Agency. A couple of stories that I've stapled and stitched together can be found at Cormac Writes.

8 comments:

Jake Hinkson said...

Nice one, Cormac!

Paul Brazill said...

Fantstic. The Heist Man Cometh Back. Cormac is back.Love it

Bubs said...

Cool

Kevin Michaels said...

Excellent! We4ll done - great narrative and strong pacing.

quin browne said...

l. i love learning odd facts

2. i love that almost as much as i love your writing.. i'm still giggling over the mental picture of orca and his loose skin flapping.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Great atmosphere, Cormac,

WellesFan said...

Very nicely done.

travsd said...

FYI--The text of Boucicault's
The Flying Scud does indeed exist -- it's in an anthology at the New York Public Library, and I have indeed read it!