JANUSLOWSKI - MARK JOSEPH KIEWLAK
Previously published in The Bitter Oleander in Autumn 2006
It’s those filtered cigarettes he smokes. I hate them. They’re so feminine. A real cop, a real detective, would smoke unfiltered.
He would chain-smoke, and never empty the ashtrays.
It’s the way he dresses, too. The sharp three-piece suits. The properly knotted ties. Where’s his trench coat? Where are the stains of the city? The blood, the vomit, the urine of dreams and hours pissed away?
College-educated, he wasn’t qualified for this. This girl needed heart. Someone with passion for the work.
I watched him kneel over her in the alley. She was facedown amidst the torn garbage bags. Egg shells and doughnut crumbs and steak trimmings were her final pillow.
She needed a hero. She got him instead.
There were dark alleys like this, hundreds of them in the city, with newspapers blowing trapped into brick corners, and the breath of a thousand winos waiting for the spark to set us all aflame.
Her blood ran between the cobblestones, but did he put his cheek down there to feel it? Could his nose smell and sort what it needed to? Did the currents make sense to him?
She was beautiful, blood-streaked hair and brain matter showing. He had no art, nothing to add to her image. Whereas I...I wanted to paint a smile on the back of her head, to reverse all the directions of her life. She seemed a prostitute, but who can tell these days? Would he, like a loving mother, look beneath her fingernails for evidence of her day?
He wasn’t soft enough for this job. He wasn’t tough enough, either. He had no extremes, no humanity with which to meet her halfway.
The downpour came eventually, and I cried to see him thrust his umbrella overhead. Blocked from the sky, from himself, unbaptized, sensationless.
There were witnesses. Elderly dead twig bones wrapped in skin no thicker than the glaze of the raindrops. Two sets of ancient orbs. Wisdom and knowledge his for the taking. He didn’t question them enough.
Her hair was cornsilk, matted. I see a single drop of blood tickle my palm, caress my wrist, plummet through long empty air to impact on her cheek. What does he know about me? What could he know?
She was a reporter, now I remember. A reporter/prostitute playing dress-up. She drank a little coffee with her caffeine. I loved the lipstick she left along the rim of her cup. I loved her.
Her every discarded piece of Styrofoam was another chalice for me to recover. I meant to tell her my feelings. But words were lazy, cumbersome, annoying to enlightened souls. The knife was a quicker message.
The moon was smiling with a bloody smear as its mouth. He was back in his immaculate office. He needed a flask of gin. He needed a three-day growth of beard.
There was a carpet, for God’s sake. Where was the hardwood floor, the peeling chips of paint, the soot-stained window nailed shut?
His desk blotter is lime-green, with not a coffee stain in sight. He uses paper clips, never a stapler. He’s got no soul.
He needs to put in a long night. To witness the ugly dawn through thin slats and weary eyes. He’s the best cop on the force. Such an unbearable burden.
Where is his release?
We sit and think about that, he and I. He in his place, me in mine. We share the absence of personal belongings. Companionship. I suppose we have each other.
I see the notepad pinned beneath her torso. The unwritten pages are turning back on themselves like the skin around a papercut. Her wrist is bent back on itself, still gripping the pen -- a junkie’s final needle. She was too perfect to ever let age.
He should start there, with her perfection. He should go to her house, study its wallpaper. He should hear what the baseboard heaters are whispering, read the reply in the windblown drapes. He should know something about that perfect moment of possession when she’s writhing in dream-fed ecstasy with the Egyptian cotton pulled tight between her legs. Has he ever seen the sights that are for him alone? Does he know the rising need that claws its own arm and chews the dead skin inside its own mouth?
There’s terror every time she turns away. What if she never turns back? Now she is facedown forever.
I know the brick pattern of the alley. I know how many, which ones are chipped. He walks that maze with a sledgehammer intellect.
She’s my Halloween girl. And I have to help him find who killed her. I have to teach him like a piss-his-pants rookie not to let reality impede his inner knowing.
She had spunk even when she brushed her teeth. She could threaten me with lifelong love. We couldn’t have that.
Now he’s filing his reports, for chrissakes. He’s mentally disturbed. Sick in the head, poor bastard. I’m not letting in any more structure to his perfectly diagrammed day. That won’t get the cuffs on anyone’s wrists.
He’s just sitting there straightening his pencil cup when he breaks. The whole squad is watching him bawl and sob and blubber about the girl, how could this happen, what world is this we live in. He’s sliding out of his straightback chair, knees to praying position. He’s soaking his underarms and his crotch. He’s alone now in a big bad dream and he's got to learn how to bite the throats out of his enemies.
Now we can get some detecting done.
Her eyes were looking everywhere and seeing colors fade, motions blur, speech made nonsense. Life lit up the exit sign and she was pushed through.
He goes back to the witnesses, their skeletons near-ready to burst through the yellowed plastic bags they called skin. They’re standing in a place, these two, where they can see the other side intersecting their every arthritic motion. What they’ve known is ending. Justice and the law. Man must govern himself.
He stands amid the passing crowd at the mouth of the alley-ending, my new hero-savior-killer-cop. He studies all day, all night. He looks for animals with masks as the city bus-faces pass indifferently by. He’s got the scent now, knows the type.
Her memories are written in blood on the inside of her skull. I can't see them smile. That’s why I needed to get inside. We’re all smiling in there.
He’s watching them now -- the players in his acted-out drama. He sees them knocking down walls, window-washing, studying make-up in compacts. He sees the leashes tighten in fists. He sees the glances a lifetime ignored. Ignorant people just walking past. Everything is in motion. It needs a rest.
He’s given up the poisoning blandness of his bottled water. He’s got a flask in his desk drawer. Every crime is unsolved. We can see only vaguely our own hearts. All else is mystery. He’s got a crime-stopper now that no one knows about. He sees a single drop of blood oozing from the barrel. But there’s an impatient ocean dammed up behind it.
He’s got the crime-stopper tucked in his pants just where it feels good. He’s taking it out now to show me, to tell me that Facedown would be the last.
He’s wiping tears of snot on the sleeve of his black and white world. Gray is in his eyes. His desk blotter is teardrops and vomit and coffee rings. He can’t pick up the phone without trembling. The bloody smears have voices. Chalk outlines are standing up and following him around. The walls sweat. And I notice that he's about to light an unfiltered cigarette.
He puts three bullets into my midsection and feels his chest grow heavy. His body cannot defy gravity. Clocks are striking midnight and husbands are striking wives.
Matches are striking thumbnails.
BIO: Mark Joseph Kiewlak has been a published author for more than two decades. In recent years his work has appeared in The Back Alley, Hardboiled, Plots With Guns, All Due Respect, Pulp Pusher, Thuglit, and many others. His story, “The Present,” was nominated for the 2010 Spinetingler Award: Best Short Story on the Web. He has also written for DC Comics.