An ongoing serialized novel about an ex-cop, a small town, and some very dark goings on. From the author of “The Hole.”
All prior and future installments of Mr. V, as well as a quick introduction to the novel, can be found here:
Feargus’s restaurant turns out to be a little Cuban joint next to a pawn shop. One of those places with probably a lot of regulars, a good chunk of them homeless. Shabby, but you suspect the food’s pretty good.
Along to the right is the alley where the kid died — if Ricky and Izzy aren’t just making shit up. Enough bums stumble through the neighborhood that poking around back there shouldn’t draw too much attention.
So I start by standing right inside the alley, and I observe.
Immediately I get a funny feeling. A tingle and metallic taste in the back of my mouth. Throb in my joints. The throb is shit you expect when you get old, but this comes on strong. The metallic taste I’ve never had before. I back out of the alley to get some air and it subsides — but comes back as soon as I step in again. Anxiety. Ricky’s bringing back memories of the job.
I see blood. A little ways in, on the cracked concrete ground, and then next to it, along the wall, a bundle of hair. Don’t know if it’s Feargus’s, but it’s too much hair to just be sheddings. I crouch down next to it but I don’t know what I’m looking for. It’s not like evidence of a murder’s just sitting there.
And that’s the thing, really. Because if Izzy and Ricky are telling the truth, then evidence of the murder wasn’t there when the cops showed up, either. Sometime between Feargus buying it and the police arriving on the scene, somebody took the corpse. Or, more sinister and conspiratorial, the cops hid the corpse themselves, secreting it away as soon as Izzy reported the crime. And the more I think about it, the more I figure that second one’s probably the case, because this was broad daylight. You don’t steal a dead guy in broad daylight, and you sure don’t do it without the police, showing up right after, knowing a body’s been moved. At the very least, they’d cause a sink about it. So if there’s silence on that matter, the silence begins with the police. Which means they’re in on it?
It’d be easier to think the junkies are feeding me a line. Not like it’d be out of character. Fucking junkies. You’d think kids would see where the drug use goes, how it fucks up everyone who starts on it, and they’d decide that’s a dumb road to go. Wouldn’t bother me much — to each his own, everyone sleeps in the bed he makes, and so on — but I keep getting sucked into their orbit. As a cop, sure, but even now. Goddamn Ricky.
So the hair. There’s scalp still on it, a wrinkled nub, tacky a little. Did Izzy tell me Feargus’s hair color? I can’t remember. I’ll ask. This stuff’s brown, with a couple white strands. Age or stress or both. Somebody tore it out or cut it off, and it hurt like hell if the owner was alive when it happened.
Blood on the wall behind it, more off to the left, further into the alley. Splashes. Big ones. More than you’d get from punching a broken nose. This is severed artery level. Again it’s weird the cops didn’t take this more seriously. Even if they didn’t find a body, this much evidence of violence you don’t ignore.
I pull out my phone, take some pictures. Thinking maybe that’s a mistake, because if things go bad and I get arrested and searched, they’re going to wonder why I have photos of a crime scene. Not a huge risk, though. It’s all out in public, and I’m an ex-cop. Still, makes me think I should tread carefully if I stay with the case. I don’t even have a PI license. This is straight up vigilante stuff I’m pulling.
The taste and the throb are still there, but fading maybe. Can’t be sure. Maybe I’m just getting used to it.
I leave the hair. My instinct’s to bag it, but I’m not official anymore, and if the good guys would spook over photos of a crime scene on my phone, they’d have a delightful time finding me with a baggie of bloody scalp. Nothing more to do here. I’ve confirmed — sort of — Izzy’s story. Somebody suffered a whole lot of violence here, and recently. Somebody probably died. I could confirm it was Feargus by asking around in the Cuban joint, see if he’s turned up for work. See if he even ever worked there. And there I am again with the not trusting Izzy or not trusting Ricky. Instinct. Gut.
I’m not going to ask, not going to stick my neck out that far. Too risky. Too much telling other people I’ve involved in whatever the hell I’ve got involved in. So I stand up, my knees pop, and I head back to the hotel, done for the night.
Back at the hotel, I remember Ricky telling me about the politician, Connolly, who’d been asking around about the junkie murders. If he knows about Feargus, maybe he knows something too about why the cops didn’t look into it more. It’s almost nine o’clock, but if the guy’s running for office, he’s probably still at it. I google for him, find a number for his campaign headquarters, and give it call.
He picks up on the second ring. Not a secretary or campaign volunteer, but the man himself. Which means he’s not all that important, has no chance of winning, or both. I tell him my name’s Stevie Winthrop — a kid who used to work at the station and got killed by a drunk driver — and I’m working on a story about the local election for a new blog. Can I come by to talk with him a bit?
“A blog?” he says.
“A new one,” I say. “Hasn’t launched yet. We’re hoping it’ll be pretty big.”
“What’s it called? You sound old for a blogger.”
“Damn kids putting us out of work,” I say. “Can’t beat ’em, join them. It’s called D-mocracy, without the ‘e’. Stupid name, I know. Not classly like the Something-something Herald or the Something-something Register. But that’s how shit goes now. The internet, you know?”
Connolly says, suspicious, “Why do you want to talk to me?”
“I’m writing up a piece — a post — about the local election, trying to do profiles on all the candidates who aren’t the crazy ones. You think I could come by? I still like doing interviews like this in person. Old fashioned, and all that.”
There’s a pause. I hope he’s buying it. I need to see him when I ask questions. It’s the only way to know for sure if he’s on the level. The silence drags. Then he says, “Sure, okay. I’m going to be here maybe another hour. You know where it is?”
I find it pretty easy. In fact, it’s only three blocks from my hotel, which I guess isn’t too surprising when you’re talking about a “downtown” the size of this one. It’s the bottom floor of a three story brick building wedged between other three story brick buildings, all on a street perpendicular but only a little ways off of Main Street. You get the sense they build these back when they figured coal mining would grow forever and that the town would grow with it and then things didn’t turn out that way.
The building has an opolstry company’s name carved into the brownstone along the top, but they’re long gone, replaced by a computer repair shop, a dance studio, and Connolly’s campaign headquarters. Which has a couple of lights on. The door’s propped open with a brick.
I go in, saying, “Hello?”
Connolly’s voice says from far away, “Back here, Mr. Winthrop,” and I follow it to a tiny office hidden behind stacked boxes of sticker, fliers, and yard signs. The ceiling above them’s missing tiles and one light off to the right flickers. A classy joint.
Connolly’s standing in the doorway, leaning against the jam. He’s a big man, stocky but not fat, maybe in his early 40s. Old to have only made it this far in politics. Must be bad at it, or made mistakes that cost him. He’s ruddy and has three days’ worth of beard. He holds out his hand. “This’ll be a friendly profile, I hope?”
“I’m not doing gotcha journalism here, “ I tell him. Then smile. “That’ll come later, you get far enough in the race.”
He laughs. “I’m not too worried about it. Nobody takes blogs seriously. Not in these parts.”
“A bad story can follow you,” I say.
He laughs again, and waves me into his office. Which is just two folding chairs and a card table, stacked with papers and an old laptop computer. No matter his prospects for elections, the guy’s clearly not vacuuming up donations.
He tells me about his upbringing, about how he learned the value of hard work helping his grandparents on their farm during summers away from the city. How he got a sense of the hardworking men and women who make this country great, and how government should serve them as they’ve served the rest of us. It’s dull and cliche and makes me think of 30 second ads of horses and cornfields and sunlight through glasses of iced tea. I let him go with it because you get a politician talking and he’ll keep talking, and there some things I want to hear him talk about.
Connolly says, “And I know how elusive and fleeting opportunities can be. Which is why I want to be sure nobody falls through the cracks,” and that’s my opportunity.
“Like the homeless and the drug kids?” I say.
“Of course. So many of them are where they are because the economy’s not working for them or because of bad luck.”
“It’s good,” I say, “when a politician takes an interest in them. In the local street kids.”
“Everyone needs help sometimes.” But he’s clearly suspicious now, leaning back, eyeing me. I used to be better at this.
“Seems like things have been particularly bad for them lately.”
“The animal attacks.”
He stares at me.
“I heard about it from one of them I was talking to. He actually mentioned you. Said you were the only person running for office who seemed to care about about him and his friends. He thought maybe you could get the police to do something about it.”
Connolly says, slow, “Who was this?”
I give him a cocked smile. “Not going to reveal my sources, right?”
Then the politician’s veneer is back, that sheen of charm. He says, “Of course I’ve heard about that. Difficult to know if it’s for real with people like that. They’re down and out, but a lot of them it’s because of mental issues. Some of them run off, or overdose, and others start telling stories about it. But, yes, I’ve talked with them about it. If it’s happening and the police aren’t taking it seriously, that’s a problem the people of this town ought to know about.”
“What have you heard?” I say. “This blog launches and I’ll do a story about it to get the word out.”
“Who else have you talked to, Mr. Winthrop? I’m curious. Am I the first person you’ve profiled?”
“I haven’t profiled anyone yet. You’re the first I’ve talked to.”
“Because of what that street kid told you?”
I nod. I’ve fucked this up. He’s not buying my line. Time to get out of here before things go any worse. “Things I’ve overheard,” I say. “Place I spend time, they do sometimes too. You hear things. These kids get excited, they talk loud. But you’ve confirmed it, right?”
“I’ve confirmed they’re telling the same stories to me you heard them telling each other. Like I said, Mr. Winthrop, I don’t know if what they’re saying happened happened.” He leans forward. This is going bad. “Here’s the thing, Mr. Winthrop. I beginning to wonder if what you’re saying, about this blog and you being a reporter, I’m beginning to think perhaps that didn’t happen either. Is there a blog, Mr. Winthrop? Or do you have some other motive for being here?”
“I’m sorry if I’ve upset you,” I say, standing up. Sticking my note pad in my back pocket. Clicking the ballpoint pen closed. “I won’t let these accusations color anything I write in the profile.”
I turn and walk out and behind me I hear Connolly’s chair slide back and then footsteps in the big, empty room. “Mr. Winthrop,” he says, his voice low enough that I have to cock my head back to make it out. “I’m going to recommend you don’t ever lie to me again. I’m going to recommend, in fact, that you don’t speak to me again or write anything about me. For your sake more than mine.”
Then I’m out the door and standing in the street. My knees hurt like hell and my mouth states like aluminum foil. I should leave, go home, forget all this, and let Ricky’s junkie friends die one by one. Fuck them. Fuck this. I’m retired. At least with old lady Prideaux, I got paid.
But I’ve got the goddamn bug. I’m in this shitty city, away from the quiet and peace of my small town, a place populated, it seems, entirely by assholes, and yet I need to see this through. Which makes me an asshole, too?
I look back. The lights are out in Connolly’s place. I hope the fucker gets clobbered in the election. Because he’s hiding something, obviously, and knows more about the murders than he claims, obviously. And I’m going to find out.
Stay up to date by signing up for my weekly(ish) newsletter.