The Ace of Spaz.
I’ve heard the expression ‘lonely streets’ once or twice. Usually it’s in some song or other by a guy who’s first name is ‘Blind.’ But it’s come up in real life, too. I guess they don’t always look welcoming, there’ve been times I’ve had to walk through the shopping district at 4 AM, and there’s nothing like seeing all the places that get rich peddling light and noise silent and dark. Lotta guys’d get unnerved. But it’s never an expression I had occasion to use. I always figured it was too, I dunno, wistful, which aint an emotion in my mental catalogue.
Course, ‘lonely’ doesn’t need to mean lonely. In my case, it’s rapidly starting to mean ‘where the hell is my partner, we’re supposed to be on a drug-bust?’
The bust was a bust. They’d moved everything somewhere, before we even got the tip on their location, judging from the dust. Time to start over from square one, then, so I might as well get my mouse back before I do.
It’s gotten foggy out on the lonely streets. There’s a feeling of nothingness hidden under the fog, as if each object you pass by comes into existence as you approach and ceases to exist when you’ve gone. The streetlights are surrounded by almost solid-looking nimbuses of light that blind you when you’re inside them and just look feeble when you’re outside them, as if they’re audibly apologizing for not being able to spread their halos out into the blackness a little further.
Max is easy to track. Here’s how, in case you ever have to: just go to his apartment, say hello to the landlady who’s seen you all the times you had to come wake him up out of a hangover, open the door with the duplicate key you have from the time he locked himself out, and don’t let the door slam because the guy across the way works an early shift. If he’s not asleep on the living room couch, check the kitchen.
Plastic grocery bags, empty. With a receipt for chips, dip, cheese, and beer.
He missed an arrest for a poker game. I’m gonna kill him.
I’ve got a pretty good idea who his poker buddies are, having arrested or at least warned most of them personally. Still, it takes me a few stops to find what I’m looking for: lights, the smell of cigarettes, the sound of frustration. They’ve got the game spread out on the lawn. Odd, I’m not gonna object; with the fog and the lantern, they won’t be able to see me coming.
Dangit! Dis iz da woist hand since Manos!
I’d know that voice anywhere.
So fold already, Max, you been bellyachin’ all evenin!
And I know that one too. This is looking to be more interesting than the drug bust.
Oi, Shady, get out’r ‘is stew! You bin rollin in the mickey since we all got ‘ere, roight? I don’t recognize that one. Looks like he could be a badger.
Yeah man, like… you’re, like… like… whoa man, yeah.
Can it, Bowzah! I’m startin ta tink dis schmo aint what he s’posed to be!
“He’s not the only one.”
I have to admit that it’s fun watching them jump. Except the stoned turtle, but you can’t have everything.
Sly, what’re ya- how’dya– what’re ya doin here?!
“See, that’s what I’m supposed to ask you.”
Whatchoo talkin bout?
“Cause I pay you to help me solve crimes, you don’t pay me to watch you play poker.”
Sly, dis is da big game!
Oi, roight, ‘e’s gort three large roidin on dis little round a whist!
“Shut up, Wat Tyler.”
“Max, we’re going. Now. Pay these bottom feeders what you owe them, and get your hat.”
Aw c’mon, just lemme finish dis here hand! I leave now I lose tree months salary!
“You don’t leave now, you lose all your future month’s salary! Besides, you’re not going to win. The game’s fixed.”
WHAT? says the whole table, minus the turtle.
Sh’up, I aint gonna take that from no copper! Snorts the shrew, Run off wityer big brudder if yer too scared to play wit da big boys! I’ma finish dis hand, win me three months a copper pay!
“I’d like to see that,” I hear myself say, and the only emotion I can feel is puzzlement at how flat I suddenly sound, “And then maybe I can call the next hand.” And so fast it surprises me, my hand’s shot out and smacked the deck across the table. “52 pickup.”
They all meet my eyes, angry at first, then something else. Cause I’ve got my other hand on my holster. When did that happen?
Geez Sly, Max says tentatively outside, why’dya hafta go an– I mean, dey aint nevah gonna let me play wit dem again!
“Good. They’re crooks, and the Shrew was cheating.”
Really? I mean, I suspected him, yeah, police instincts ‘n stuff, but… how d’ya know?
“Because!” I whirl on him, and suddenly with a cold shock I can feel again, and there’s all the anger that must have been percolating in my brain since I went in there. It’s as if I’d only just mislaid it for a moment. “Not because I saw him slip cards out of his sleeve! Not because I saw him deal from the bottom of the deck! Not because I counted two aces of spades lying on the floor! Because his name is Shady Shrew, Max! What more reason do you need?”
Max has backed against a lamppost. I’m just outside the radius of the light. I can see him just blinking at me, like a kid that’s said a four letter word at a funeral but has no idea what it means.
“They’re criminals, and if you want to be with the police, you’ve gotta pick a side.”
Dat’s rich, comin from you! You and… and your… Where d’you get off, talkin bout choosing if yer on the side of da law or aginst it!?
I shake my head heavily. He probably can’t see, though. “That’s not it. It’s between being on the side of the law, and being against me.”
I walked all the way back to the office. Even if I had looked back to see if he was following, I wouldn’t have been able to see him through the fog.
So I don’t bother.