Saturday, September 27, 2008

An Act of Dishonesty

The McCain campaign is shielding its number two candidate from the press. Apparently the fifth estate has not been as kind to Sarah Palin as it should be--reporters have been asking questions that fluster her--like whether she agrees with the Bush policy. She wasn't sure, since she didn't know what it was.

Shielding Palin is an act of dishonesty, of supreme egotism. It denotes a frightening condescension towards the voting public, and a disturbing peek into John McCain's psyche. What it comes down to is that even he doesn't take her seriously. And why should he? McCain is a hero in his own mind, a survivor of unspeakable atrocities who believes he will live a very, very long time. Palin, he is convinced, will never really get close to the presidency, so why worry if her knowledge of economics, foreign and domestic affairs, diplomacy, technology, etc., is at best minimal. She will never be asked to step up to the plate. McCain has given us an American Idol candidate--cute, perky, and for all I know a good singer, too--who knows how to engage the crowds and can divine God's will, essentially a piece of religious 'arm candy.'

Which brings up another issue. Should the unspeakable occur--McCain keels over while addressing the Vietnamese-American Citizen's League--and Palin ascends to the big chair in the Oval Office, we will have as a leader a person who really does believe this is the End Times, the day of reckoning when good Christians such as herself get to climb the golden stairs while the rest of us go--literally--to Hell. This, among Pentecostals, is something to look forward to! They've been groomed from childhood to prepare for the day when the righteous (them) get their rewards and the wrongeous (us) get the shaft. Personally, the thought that such a person has access to the Big Mushroom Cloud button does not fill me with confidence. What if she suddenly decides that God's will is to nuke the other guy?

What we've seen in the past weeks is a cold demonstration of what the big guys--bankers, mortgage holders, Wall Streeters and Republican politicians--see as business as usual. Get rich, screw the little folks, get bailed out when the crap hits the fan. Now we're seeing a version of this from McCain and co. Get elected, screw the voters. I, for one, am not as confident as I used to be in the country's ability to survive yet another clueless duo in the White House.

Here's installment 4 of Wasted Miracles.

Colin drove home over the Roosevelt Bridge and cut over to 66. The ashtray in the 924’s console had three butts in it and the entire car smelled like McDonald’s. He turned the radio on, punched in WGMS. A Latino station came in loud and strong, which meant the parking lot attendant had taken his lunchbreak in the Porsche and hadn’t appreciated Colin’s taste in music. Another good reason not to come into DC.
In his apartment he checked his voice mail, retrieved two messages. The first one was from Catherine. He heard, “I’m still angry, and I’m disgusted. I don’t have to tell you that this completely changes the way you and I are going to be. There’s still no word from Josie. Please call me.”
The second message was from Joe the Cop and it was longer. “Colin, there was a body, I thought it might be the girl. The description fit so I went to the morgue, except the description was wrong and it turned out to be a guy wearing a dress and a wig. Which I guess is good news but doesn’t say much for the quality of police work around here. If you change your mind and want me to check out the dancer, call and leave a message. Bye.”
No need to call Joe back. Colin picked up the phone, began dialing Catherine’s number, hung up. He hadn’t really learned anything substantial from Mollie Catfish. The dancer knew Josie, but only slightly and the information she’d provided on Josie’s boyfriend Herbie was at the most conjecture. She’d quickly surmised the truth, that he was a dealer, but that had already been established by the Senegalese limo driver.
Which meant that any conversation with Catherine would come to focus on his brief liaison with her daughter. And what was there to say about that?
***
He hadn’t really noticed the girl. It was late, chilly, the parking lot of the Serenity Club still bore patches of ice from the winter’s final snowfall. The last of the parking lot people had either gone home or retreated to the IHOP a block away for one final cup of coffee.
Colin’s pigeon hadn’t shown up at the meeting. He was a young man, less than a month sober and they’d arranged to see each other there after the boy got off work pounding dough at the nearby Pizza Hut. Except that the boy hadn’t shown up. Colin had not been surprised though he was annoyed at having to wait in the cold. He hadn’t particularly wanted to be a sponsor, Orin G. has prompted him to it and the pigeon had been both shaky and defiant, barely out of detox, still full of anger and wary of the program. Colin would give it five more minutes and go home.
The girl, though he didn’t know it was a girl at the time, leaned against a wall some 20 feet away and seemed to be waiting as well, chain-smoking and rubbing her gloved hands together to keep warm. She wore jeans, a heavy parka and a ski cap and every few seconds glanced at her watch, straightened, took a few steps, scanned the parking lot. Once, when the headlights of a car pushed through the gloom she picked up her knapsack and walked quickly in that direction but the car swept past her.
A few minutes after that she threw her cigarette down, stepped on it angrily, slung the knapsack over her shoulder and disappeared around a corner. Less than 10 seconds later Colin heard the sound of a scuffle and a woman’s voice yell, “Lay off, motherfucker!” A man’s voice, muffled, followed. “Hey! Hey! C’mon, babe. Quiet, now! Nothin’s gonna happen, c’mon.” Then there was the sound of fabric ripping and the woman’s voice rose in pitch. “Get away from me, asshole!”
Later Colin would decide once again that there are no coincidences in life, that everything and every moment has its own reason for being and that the links between moments were there for a purpose. He moved quickly, saw two indistinct shapes of different sizes grappling. He grabbed the bigger shape, yanked back sharply. The shape said, “What the fuck?”, swung wildly. Colin ducked. It wasn’t a very good blow and its momentum turned the man around. Colin took a step, braced himself and threw one short very hard punch that hit the man just below the solar plexus and lifted him off the ground. The man fell with a dull thud, coughed, retched, threw up on himself. The night air was suddenly suffused with the stink of warm booze and digestive fluids.
Colin moved to the woman. Her ski cap had been knocked off and the front of her parka was torn. The flap of her knapsack was open, her belongings spilled in a puddle. Without looking at him she dropped to both knees and started picking them up. A few feet away the man crawled off, rose to his feet, fell again, mumbled, “I wasn’t gonna hurt her. I jus’ wanted to fuck her...”
Colin knelt beside the girl, saw she had close cropped blonde hair kept in place by a yellow headband. Her eyes were brown or green, very round. There was a small cut on her right cheekbone and a drop of blood was bright red against her pale skin. Her breathing came in short gasps. He said, “You all right?” She nodded her head but he knew she wasn’t.
He helped her gather a bottle of Advil, a hairbrush and a pocket edition of the Big Book. She grasped his hand and rose to her feet. He felt a thin arm quiver, caught her as her knees buckled. He said, “Do you want me to call someone? Get the police...” but she shook her head. “Don’t.”
She leaned against him and there wasn’t much weight there. She brought a gloved hand to her face, touched the cut, in a very small voice said, “Shit. I’m bleeding.”
Colin said. “It’s a scratch. You’re OK. Are you sure you don’t want me to call...”
She shook her head. “Fine. I’m fine. Gotta lie down for a second, that’s all.”
So he did as she asked, took her to his apartment. During the ride there she didn’t say anything but her fingers touched the cut repeatedly, wiped at the blood so it made a small dark circle like the exaggerated makeup of a mime.
In the building’s elevator she leaned against him and in the apartment she seemed to know where the bathroom was and headed for it, shedding parka, headband, sweater, bra. She closed the bathroom door and Colin heard the shower run. He busied himself in the kitchen, boiled water for tea, found a Band Aid in the junk drawer.
She was in the bathroom a long time. He heard the toilet being flushed twice, then the whine of the hair dryer he never used. When she opened the door, steam billowed out.
She was wrapped in two towels, one from the shoulders to the knees, one around her head. His toothbrush was sticking out of her mouth. He handed her a cup of tea and she took it, nodded. Then she said, “I’m gonna lie down. You mind?”
She was tall and very slender and he couldn’t tell her age, thought she might be in her 20s though her walk was older. He followed her to the bedroom, holding the Band Aid and feeling silly. She dropped the bottom towel, lifted the cover from the bed, crawled in. “You coming?”
He thought maybe she just wanted to be held, he really thought that, it was a common reaction to physical stress, and for awhile that’s all he did until her trembling subsided. He asked her name and she said, “Jane. Now shush,” and pressed against him. He still had all his clothes on.
After awhile he thought she was asleep but then felt her lips against his neck. She whispered, “Thank you.”
Then she moved so his hips and hers were in line and there was a subtle tension, a barely rhythmic pressure. She was breathing evenly now and her face was turned half against the pillow. Her arm snaked out, found the switch to the bed lamp. She got up, pushed the door shut. Now the room was in complete darkness save for a strip of light filtering through a gap in the doorway. She undid the buttons of his shirt, slid it off, unbuckled his belt, kept removing clothing silently.
He said, “You don’t have to...”
“I know.” She took his hand, moved his thumb to her lips. “See? I’m smiling.”
When he was entirely naked she kissed his Adam’s apple and moved down, lingered on his nipples, traveled to his navel, then lower. She took him in her mouth and he held her head lightly in both hands as it moved insistently. When he was hard she sat up and straddled him, moved two fingers to her mouth and made herself wet. She let him enter her very slowly though without hesitation and only when he was fully in did she allow her weight to rest on him. She stayed there without moving for a while, then leaned down, placed her hands on his chest and began a slow purposeful thrust that was more horizontal than anything else. He matched her, heard her gasp slightly. She shifted her body so she was leaning back, slight breasts thrust to the ceiling, hips still moving forward and back with measured regularity.
Then she swung off, got on her hands and knees beside him. “This way.”
She guided him and he entered her from behind, pushing at him, squashing her cheeks against his pelvis. He took her slim hips in both hands, pulled her against him and she grunted softly, said, “Yeah, like that,” so he did it again and again, felt himself surge. She reached down and back between her legs, held him between her thumb and forefinger. Her touch there was the trigger he needed but didn’t really want yet. He tried to hold back, couldn’t, stopped trying. The bed trembled beneath them and he heard her smile.
A little while later he tried to talk again but she held her palm against his mouth. She said, “It doesn’t matter.” Then she got up.
“Gotta go.”
He moved to stand up but she pushed him back. “Stay there. I’m going to call a cab, and I don’t want you to come with me, OK?”
He started to argue but she said, “Please? I know what I’m doing. Really.” She pulled her jeans on. “Just say, ‘Yes.’”
So he did. She walked to the bedroom door, closed it behind her. He heard her dial the phone, stood, had the door half opened when she said, “Please don’t come out. It’ll ruin everything.” So he didn’t. She finished dressing in the living room and after a while there was the faint click of the latch thrown, the door opened and softly closed.
In the morning it was more like a dream, less like a fantasy. The bed still held her smell, a faint melange of sweat, soap and shampoo. He found a couple of short blonde hairs on his pillow. Her teacup was still full on the night table.
***

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ah, Politics...

I'm not going to claim responsibility for this blog. This is an email that has been circulating for a while, and just in case you haven’t seen it, here it is.
“I’m a little confused. Let me see if I have this straight.....
If you grow up in Hawaii, raised by your grandparents, you're ‘exotic, different.’ Grow up in Alaska eating mooseburgers: a quintessential American story.
If your name is Barack you're a radical, unpatriotic Muslim. Name your kids Willow, Trig, and Track: you're a maverick.
Graduate from Harvard law School and you are unstable.
Attend 5 different small colleges before graduating: you're well grounded.
If you spend 3 years as a brilliant community organizer, become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor, spend 8 years as a State Senator representing a district with over 750,000 people, become chairman of the state Senate's Health and Human Services committee, spend 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people while sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran's Affairs committees, you don't have any real leadership experience.
If your total resume is: local weather girl (sportscaster), 4 years on the city council and 6 years as the mayor of a town with fewer than 7,000 people, 20 months as the governor of a state with 650,000 people, then you're qualified to become the country's second highest ranking executive.
If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising 2 beautiful daughters, all within Protestant churches, you're not a real Christian.
If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the heiress, you're a Christian.
If you teach responsible, age appropriate sex education, including the proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society.
If, while governor, you staunchly advocate abstinence only, with no other option in sex education in your state's school system while your unwed teen daughter ends up pregnant , you're very responsible.
If your wife is a Harvard graduate lawyer who gave up a position in a prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner city community, then gave that up to raise a family, your family's values don't represent America's.
If you're husband is nicknamed "First Dude", with at least one DUI conviction and no college education, who didn't register to vote until age 25 and once was a member of a group that advocated the secession of Alaska from the USA, your family is extremely admirable.
If your tenure as Mayor included charging rape victims thousands of dollars for the evidence gathering kits used to prosecute their cases, based on the logic that the taxpayers shouldn't have to carry the burden of paying for these kits, with that logic being officially and publicly backed by your hand-picked replacement for the Chief of Police you fired for disagreeing with you, and the Alaskan State Legislature passed a State Law supported by both parties making it illegal to do that just so YOUR town couldn't do it anymore, you are candidate women can relate to. Just like Hillary Clinton.
If you think that rape victims are taxpayers too and that taxes are supposed to be used for Law Enforcement purposes, as wells as other infrastructure support projects like environmentally sound sewage treatment plants & storm drains, and better public schools then you are fiscally irresponsible.
OK, it's all much clearer now.”
Here’s installment 45 of Wasted Miracles.

Outside it was bright, Colin felt he was coming out of a cave. He walked to the Quartermaine, ordered a double espresso. The kid behind the bar called out something that sounded like “One dopey O” to a slightly older colleague who echoed the command. The big chrome machine hissed and sputtered. The kid handed Colin a tiny cup.
Colin looked into it. “That’s it?”
“It’s quality, not quantity. You want another shot? That’s an extra buck fifty. As is, two seventy five.”
Colin handed him three singles. “Keep the change.”
The kid said, “Sheesh. Thanks.” He rang up the sale, dropped the solitary quarter into a mug by the cash register. “Just so you know, we split the tips at night among all the staff.”
Colin said, “That’s nice,” dropped two packs of Equal into the cup, stirred it with a wooden stick, remembered reading about tropical deforestation that was caused by the Japanese demand for disposable chopsticks. He took a seat by the window, stuck the stirrer in his mouth, watched the traffic rumble by.
He noticed traffic cops at both ends of the street, remembered that the Secret Service had ordered the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House for security reasons. The resulting rerouting of some 16,000 cars, trucks and buses daily had immediately rendered obsolete all the traffic signals in a six-square-block area. Cops had been pulled off street patrol to handle the horde of tourists and commuters who poured into and out of the city and used the avenue as a thoroughfare. As a safety measure, the closure hadn’t been particularly effective. The day after the avenue was blocked off, a man with a concealed kitchen knife climbed the fence to pay the President an impromptu visit.
He drank his espresso in one gulp, looked at his watch. The girl was already late and he wondered whether agreeing to meet him had been a ploy to get him out of the club. He ordered a second double, left another quarter tip, resumed his seat on the stool by the window.
He didn’t recognize the woman who came into the shop, walked past him and ordered a decaf. The dancer had taken off her hair, stripped her makeup and was now wearing jeans, bright green leather sandals and a University of Maryland Terrapins sweatshirt. She looked like a student, perhaps a tourist. Only her breasts seemed out of place.
She took the stool next to his. “Show me your chip.”
It took a moment to register.
She said, “Your chip. You’re in AA, your chip is your most prized possession. Lemme see it.”
Colin stood, reached into the bottom of his right pants pocket, dropped it on the counter. It made a coppery sound. She picked it up, scrutinized it.
“Five years?”
She sounded disappointed, for some reason he felt he had to apologize.
“Would have been nine. I blew it five years ago.”
“Slip or relapse?”
“Full-fledged relapse. I was out seven months. Came back in, went out again a week later. Did that three times. Fourth time around it took, but only because I spent three days in the tank. After that, the county put me in detox, then I rehabed.”
She pondered that. “I’m still brand new. It’s going to be four months next week if I don’t fuck up. See?” She wore her chip on a gold chain around her neck, allowed him to look at it for a second, dropped it back down into her sweatshirt.
“So,” she said. “Now we’ve gotten over the formalities. Let’s get down to the serious stuff, like who are you, what do you want. Like I said, I haven’t seen Josie, not in a couple of weeks.”
“She’s your sponsor?”
The woman put her coffee cup down. “Look, before we get all personal and buddy-buddy, I don’t know you from some asshole who comes into the bar and just wants to get laid, pardon my French. Which is OK, getting laid, I mean, but not with me cause I stopped doing that about the same time I stopped drinking. Which means I make a lot less tip money, which means in turn that I have another job, and I have to be there in about an hour. The only reason I came is that you had the good manners not to shove some money at me back there in the bar, because if you had then I would have been sure you were an asshole and I would have asked Bennie to kick your ass out. And he would have, too, because he likes me and he thinks I’m crazy to work in there while trying to stay straight. I tell him if I’m crazy, he’s crazy too, but he thinks he’s justified, cause he’s been drinking only fruit juice for 12 years, but I personally think it’s a bunch of macho crap. OK, now you know my life story, and I still don’t know who the hell you are.”
Colin smiled. Her speech had made her likable. He said, “I’m Colin Marsh. I’m not a cop. That doesn’t mean I’m not an asshole, sometimes, make that often, I’m pretty sure I am. I came in there looking for you because I thought you could help.” He stuck his hand out. She shook it. He was surprised to feel the firmness of her grasp. There were calluses in her palm.
She flexed her fingers. “You get those gripping the pole and swinging around. What about Josie?”
He swished the coffee in the cup. “I don’t know Josie personally, or at least not well. But her mother and I are friends, and she thinks something bad may have happened to her. She hasn’t been home in a couple of days. I asked around, someone told me she was your sponsor. That’s all there is.”
The woman reached into her purse, drew out a cigarette and a lighter. “There’s a table free outside. I can’t smoke in here. Which is pretty stupid, a coffee place where they don’t allow you to smoke, but I lit up here once, I was thinking of something else and the two faggots back there almost had conniptions.” She stood up, straightened her jeans.
Once outside and seated, she said, “Yeah. Josie is, was, my sponsor, and we’re supposed to meet twice a week but she missed the last four meetings. I thought maybe she’d run away with Herbie, you know Herbie, her boyfriend?”
“She’s not with Herbie. Herbie’s dead.”
The woman nodded, showed no surprise. “Yeah, well, I’m not shocked. Not really sorry, either, Herbie was an asshole, too. I met him once for five minutes and as soon as Josie had her back turned he started hitting on me. When I told her about it later she just kind of shrugged, but I could tell it bothered her. What happened?”
“Police says he was beaten up, stabbed and shot. His body was found near Rock Creek Park. They think he was dealing.”
That made her grimace. “They think? Christ. He practically shoved a cokespoon up my nose, one of those horrible tiny gold numbers like people used to have hanging from a chain on their neck, except he kept it in this little leather bag in his pocket. Had this greasy smile on, said there was plenty more if we got to be friends. Used those very words.”
“Was Josie using, Mollie?”
The woman looked at him in the eyes for the very first time. “Actually, I prefer ‘Cat.’ I’ve always hated ‘Mollie.’ That was my first foster parents’ idea. They named me after a cocker spaniel they had when they were newlyweds.”
“Mollie Catfish.”
“Yeah. Shit, can you imagine anyone having ‘Catfish’ as a family name? But it’s right there on my birth certificate. I’ve been meaning for years to have it changed, never get around to it.”
She puffed on the cigarette without inhaling. “But it’s kinda distinctive, you know? Stands out. I took a lot of kiddin about it when I was a kid, but you get over it. Makes you tougher, that’s what my stepfather used to say.”
She dropped the cigarette on the sidewalk, crushed it. “So Herbie’s dead...” She let the sentence hang.
“What can you tell me about Josie that might help me know where she is?”
She pushed back her chair, extended her legs. Colin could see the muscles in her calf through the denim, the red polish on her toe nails. “I really don’t know her that well, and not that long. I went to a women’s meeting maybe eight, ten weeks ago, and they announced that there were temporary sponsors, and I saw her standing next to the coffee machine and introduced myself. I didn’t have a sponsor, it was time to get one but you know how it is, it’s the kinda thing you keep delaying. We exchanged phone numbers and of course I didn’t call her like she asked me to. There’s always an excuse, too busy, don’t need it, ashamed, embarrassed, whatever. The thousand-pound telephone. So a couple of days later she called me, I was kinda surprised. We met and had coffee, talked about stuff, nothing very meaningful. I told her right away what I did and it didn’t phase her. I thought that was cool. She didn’t tell me to quit my job, and that was cool too, because that’s all I hear, get another job, don’t hang around slippery places.” She laughed but there was distaste there.
“It’s like, what do these people expect? A good week, I make six, seven hundred and that’s just in tips. It’s a pretty clean place. No blowjobs in the booths, excuse my French. Owners don’t allow it, though they let the girls go out on their own time with the customers. What am I supposed to do, work at Burger King? Five bucks an hour and mop the place down after it closes?
“Anyway, Josie didn’t comment on that, just asked if I thought I could stay straight there, all the booze and, yeah, there’s drugs too, and I said it’s a lot better than where I worked before, real redneck joint in Bladensburg where if you didn’t give blowjobs you were out on your ass, simple as that.”
She threw Colin a glance, tried to read his face. He kept it impassive. She asked, “Am I shocking you?”
“Are you trying to?”
She laughed, this time her eyes were in it. “Yeah, I suppose a little. That’s how I gauge people, they have a problem with what I do, then fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke, you know? I don’t have the time. Anyhow, Josie didn’t give me a lot of grief, I think she found it kinda exciting. The second time we saw each other, that’s all she had was questions. How’d I get started, how’d I deal with the assholes, how much I got paid. Then we got into real girl stuff, it was silly, she tried on some of the outfits I wear and I showed her a few steps, simple stuff. Time after that I took her to the gym with me, wore her out. I thought maybe she was gonna be a friend.”
Colin asked, “What did she talk about?”
Mollie Catfish shrugged. “Her addictions, how it was for her. Rehab. AA and NA. Herbie, when I got to know her a little. Her parents. Her father; how she really thought he was a dick. You know her parents?”
Colin hesitated. “I know her mother. I’ve only met her father once or twice.”
“I went to her house once and he looked right through me, like I wasn’t there. She introduced me and I stuck my hand out and he looked at it like it was a dead animal by the side of the road or something. Just kinda nodded and walked away. Josie told me not to get upset about it. He treats everybody like that. I mean, you’re talking about a real dork.
“Her mother was pretty nice, though, I liked her. Josie just said I was a friend, not that she was my sponsor or anything, she wanted to keep that to herself, I think, like it was our secret. I didn’t mind. Anyway, her mother talked to me a couple of minutes, then she went away too. I think she feels sorry for her mother, having an asshole husband and all, but she kinda blames her, too. Like, her mother should have done better for herself somehow. What it comes down to is, I think Josie’s pretty confused.” She stirred another pack of Equal into her coffee. “So that day I went to her house, we just sat around the back yard and that’s when she talked about Herbie.”
Colin asked, “You never answered my first question, Cat. Was she using, you think?”
The woman looked up. “You mean because she was hanging with Herbie? No. No, she was clean. She didn’t know he was dealing, or maybe if she did, she just blocked it out. She really liked him, at least at the start. And I guess really he was OK at the beginning, I suppose.”
“But you didn’t like him.”
Mollie Catfish considered the statement before answering. “Not so much that I didn’t like him, it’s just that he came on to me, you know? And that’s what men do all the time at the club, they shove a couple of bucks at me and half the time there’s a phone number there, like they expect me to call, right? In the beginning it pissed me off and then I got used to it, it’s just part of the business, and some of the girls do call, and it’s always like a quicky at some cheesy motel. I mean, they make a lot of bucks that way, some of these guys are really desperate. So when Herbie came on, it just made him unspecial, you know, just another asshole after a quick bang while his wife--or in this case girlfriend--has her back turned. I mean, Josie could do a lot better than Herbie. She’s pretty and she’s smart, to me it was like she just settled for... what do they call it, the lowest common denominator.”
“Why do you think that is?”
She considered that too. “Why? Jeez, I’m no shrink. But I read a lot of self-help books, you know? How to better yourself, positive thinking, stuff like that. So off the top of my head, what I’d say is she’s got real low self-esteem. She shouldn’t, there’s no reason for it, but she does. Lots of people like that in AA, but you’ve been there longer than me, so I don’t have to tell you that. And like I said, I’m no expert, that’s just me thinking out loud.”
Colin changed subjects. “You said you have a second job?”
She looked at her watch, nodded. “Just a minute more. Yeah, I do. Actually I’m in training, it’s just a couple of hours a day. The brother of this girl I know has a little travel agency. Mostly books stuff for older people and what I do is answer phones, take messages, mail out brochures, things like that. He said he’d teach me how to use the computer to actually make the reservations and then eventually I could become a travel agent. Good pay, free trips. Sounds like the good life, uh?”
She looked at her watch again.
Colin asked, “Nothing else you can tell me?”
She stood. “Gotta go. Nope, nothing I can think of.”
Colin scribbled his name and phone number on a napkin, handed it to her. “Give me a call if you think of anything. Or if you just want to talk.”
She looked at the napkin doubtfully, stuffed it in her purse. “Sure thing.” She walked off, turned around, added, “As long as it’s just talk.”
***

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why I Love the Internet

I have a spam filter. It is supposed to be effective and protects me---I assume--from former Nigerian Prime Ministers with millions in their portfolios, slick Malaysians dealing in stolen Ferraris, and purveyors of ciala berry drinks.

This being said, when I first check my email in the morning, there are generally close to a hundred messages. This particular morn, Goober Gary wants to sell me Cialis and Lulu Pino promises success with women if I buy a knock-off Rolex. Edwina Ebenezer says with the product she is selling, I will have sex more than ten times tonight, but she does not say with who (whom?)

I particularly enjoy the fact that the net does not discriminate. There is no ageism or sexism, no racism or religious intolerance. Both Martin Schwartz and Beatrice Lumumba guarantee that I can increase the size and length of my manhood with a month's supply of their rather costly product. I wonder who told them about the issue I have with size and girth. Are Martin and Patrice friends, and if so, where did they meet?

Ashlee Judd states "the science behind our products! Is setting a new standard for healthy and effective enlargement and is the most powerful formula on the market today!" I have forwarded Ashlee's announcement to both Martin and Patrice. These people should know each other.

Marguerite Cassidy does not believe in mincing words. "Get Bigger Pennis." Marguerite believes spelling it with two n's will automatically make it bigger.

Freddie Morton, on the other hand, likes to go scientific: "More sexual partners. More orgasms. More pleasure. Choosing your p oxq eni gc s enl qnp arge mdi ment method you should remember that some widely advertised methods are either ineffective or dangerous. Some advertisements are based on lies, lack of m fq edi gcv cal knowledge or are just frauds. Choose XXX pe tqy ni oz s enl eae arge rzt ment device to achieve pe vsl ni ef s si rv ze you dream of in a safe and m xbx edic hmx ally approved way." Since the only Freddie I know owns a gay bar in Virginia--and I'm pretty sure he wasn't the Freddie sending me the email--I have doubts about these promises.

And lest I forget, for about a year I received all sorts of ads to make my breasts bigger, fuller, rounder, more satisfying to the touch. I think those came from Steve Martin who once said that if he had breasts, he'd spend all his time playing with them.


Here's installment 44 of Wasted Miracles.

The next day Colin waited until eleven then called Pete’s Place. A woman answered and he asked if Mollie was dancing there today. The woman said, “Holdasec,” let the phone drop, returned in a moment. “No Mollie here, but come on down anyway, all the girls are real good dancers. You want a reservation? We need one for lunch.”
Colin made sure the woman could hear his disappointment. “Just my luck, I must have gotten her name wrong last week. Thought she said Mollie Catfish? She told me she’d be there.”
“You mean Cat? Why didn’t you say so. Yeah, lemme see, she’ll be here at two, gets the tail end of the lunch trade. C’mon over. I’m sure she’ll be glad to see you.”
***
Pete’s Place was a pale brick three-story brownstone that had once been a home, then a rooming house, then a store and finally a restaurant. There was an awning over a window painted flat white and a Budweiser banner announcing a dance contest. The building was wedged between a Chinese take-out and a PMI parking lot full of pickup trucks, new and expensive foreign imports and older American cars. A half a dozen Harleys were lined up with military precision in front.
It was just after two when he got there and he paid five dollars to get in. He let his eyes adjust to the dim light. Inside, Bose speakers hanging from the ceiling poured out music so loud it seemed to go into and through him, vibrating his bones. It amazed him that such a place could thrive even during the day, he wondered how the people who worked there could stand it, then noticed the bouncer wore bright yellow ear plugs.
There was a small dance floor ringed by diminutive tables. Colin found an empty one, sat. The blue-jeaned waitress had ear plugs too. She stared at his lips when he ordered a Coke and a cup of coffee, nodded, ran a hand through lank blonde hair. “You gonna eat?” Her voice somehow reached under the music. Colin shook his head. The waitress shrugged. “One Coke, one coffee. Seven dollars.” He handed her a ten. “Change?” Colin mouthed, “No.” She took the ten, smiled briefly.
The owners had tried for a show of style, lots of brass accents and a long polished bar on the farthest side. There were three large rooms painted different colors. Against a wall in each area was a raised dais backed with a mirror and what looked like a fireman’s pole running from floor to ceiling. On each dais was a dancer. The three women, two brunettes and a blonde, were totally nude save for one garter. The blonde had her pubes shaved. All had surgically enhanced breasts attached to hard, thin bodies.
The dancer nearest Colin, a brunette with a wealth of permed hair that cascaded to her hips, flashed him a bright smile and blew him a kiss. When he didn’t respond, her eyes snaked past him to another man seated two tables away, a bureaucrat, Colin thought. The man had a well-fed look, his face was pink and florid in places. His hair was combed carefully over his bald spot but the heat of the moment had caused a few strands to slip and expose flaking scalp. Colin saw that as soon as the man looked up, the girl began dancing more suggestively, coiling long legs around the fire pole, pelvis thrusting to the beat of the music. Then she spun around, bent over and, head turned so as not to lose eye contact with the customer, did a split that exposed everything. Colin blinked. The bureaucrat made an O with his mouth, clapped silently, his tongue ran pink all the way around his lips. He took a five dollar bill from his wallet, held it up for the girl to see, spun an index finger in the air. Do it again. The girl repeated the movement, letting her legs splay wide with agonizing slowness. Colin, like the other customer, was mesmerized. The girl noticed, shot him another smile. He tried to focus on her face but his eyes had a will of their own, resting first on her breasts then lower. The girl rammed her hips in his direction and winked. Colin felt his face redden, turned away confused by his own embarrassment.
The music ended and the dancer’s movement slowed and stopped like a clock winding down. She pulled a translucent camisole over head, jumped from the dais to the floor. Colin found two single dollar bills and handed them to her as she walked past his table. She glanced at the money, took it from his hand and put the bills in her garter belt, gave him the briefest of grins, moved on to the customer who now held up two fives. He stood as she neared, pulled a chair out but she shook her head. No lap dancing or socializing with the customers. Colin saw the man fumble for his wallet and hand her a card. The girl smiled, palmed it, walked toward a door that said Employees Only.
Five minutes later the waitress reappeared. “Refill, hon?”
Colin nodded. While the waitress poured the coffee, he asked, “Has Cat been around?”
She gave him an odd look, reached into her apron and dropped two white containers of Half and Half in his saucer.
“You know Cat?”
Colin shook his head. “No. Friend of a friend.”
The waitress lost interest. “Well, you just missed her.” She pointed her chin toward the dais. “Anything else you want? My shift’s ending.”
Colin found two tens. “Keep it.”
The waitress understood. “Want me to see if Cat is still here? I think her shift ended. She’s been here since ten. They do 40 on, 20 off.” The money made her talkative. “But I think you’re wastin your time. Cat dances. That’s all she does, nothin more. She’s a nice girl.” She rearranged the salt and pepper shakers, moved the French’s Mustard an inch to the left. “You want somethin else, talk to Marylin or Sandrah,” her eyes moved to the second dais where a tall redhead with perfect teeth was gyrating. “Cat doesn’t date the customers.”
Colin wondered if that was true, said, “Can you just give her a message? Ask if she can come by?”
The waitress shrugged. “Sure thing. But I wouldn’t expect much if I were you.”
She walked to the Employees Only door, was gone less than a minute. “She’s changin. Wants to know who the friend is.”
Colin made another ten appear. “Josie. Tell her I’m a friend of Josie’s.”
The waitress sighed, tired of playing messenger, took the money. “It’s your nickel.”
When she reappeared the second time, she said, “Cat’ll be out in a minute.” She glanced at her wristwatch, took her apron off, balled it. “I’m outta here. Have a nice day.”
Colin sipped his Coke. The ice had melted and the drink had almost no flavor left. He thought about who he knew in AA, tried to recall another nude dancer. He couldn’t remember one, though in meetings the damnedest assortment of people kept cropping up. The sword swallower who’d showed up drunk for a show and had the tools of her trade confiscated by an angry nightclub owner was about as exotic as he could remember.
“You seen Josie?”
She was standing behind him, he hadn’t heard her coming.
“Mollie, right? Or Cat?”
“Either one, I don’t really care. Cat’s the name I use here. You know Josie?”
Colin turned to face the woman. Off the dais she looked smaller. She was wearing silver sandals and a Hawaiian print shift that hid her figure. Her face was pocked by childhood chickenpox and up close Colin could see her hair wasn’t her own.
As if reading his thought, she said, “We look a lot less glamorous without the music.” She glanced around the room, “Look, I don’t have a lot of time. This is my quitting time, and I’d like to get off my feet. What about Josie?”
Colin said, “I’m a friend of Bill’s.” Bill W., the founder of AA.
The woman’s expression didn’t change. “Good for you. I’m duly impressed. But Bill has about a million friend so you’re not exactly special.” For a moment she looked thoughtful then her eyes narrowed. “Are you a cop? Has something happened to Josie? Is that why you’re here?” She took a step back, drew away. “Cause I haven’t seen her in a couple of weeks. So if this is some sort of bullshit cop stuff, gimme a break, OK? I really don’t need this kinda crap, you know? You guys tried to bust my ass a month ago, and enough’s enough.”
Her voice rose, hovered between anger and fright. “Look. I’m tellin’ you the truth, I haven’t seen her, and I’m goin’ now.”
Colin held up a hand. “I’m not a cop. Really.”
The bouncer had moved from the door, was eyeing them. “Can we go someplace to talk? Please. It’s important. Josie’s missing. I’m trying to find her.”
She seemed to think about it. The bouncer was 10 feet away and coming closer. He moved on his toes like a boxer. “Cat? You being bothered?”
She glanced down at Colin who was still sitting, made up her mind. “It’s OK, Benny. It’s cool.”
The bouncer stopped. “You sure?”
She nodded. “Yeah, Benny. Thanks. Just a little misunderstanding.”
The bouncer retreated to his station by the door. She said, “Benny’s a friend of Bill W too. Takes all kinds, doesn’t it.”
Colin stood, was about to give the dancer a bill when he thought better of it. The music had started again and a different girl was on the dais. He said, “There’s a coffee place on the corner. Can we meet there?”
She thought about that too. “Yeah. OK. You go there, I’ll meet you in fifteen minutes. I’ve gotta clean up, and I don’t want anybody to see me leaving with a customer. They’ll get the wrong idea.” She turned to leave. “You sure you’re not a cop? Cause if you are, I’m gonna really be pissed off.”
***

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ooh Baby Baby Redux

Here are some of the problems with teen-age mothers and their kids.

Teen-age moms drop out of school.
They are often shunned by their families.
The teen-age fathers seldom contribute to children-related expenses.
Teen-age moms rarely have the resources to fend for themselves.
They are often unemployable in any but the lowest service capacity

Encouraging marriage of teens is silly. Such unions have a staggeringly high divorce rate.


Here is the problem associated with teaching abstinence only.

It doesn't work because:
  • Having sex is fun
  • Having sex can make you very popular
  • It shows you care
  • Your boyfriend wants to do it
  • Your girlfriend wants to do it
  • It's fun.

There are a lot of things right now that do not make a lot of sense.

Each year, more than 750,000 teenage women aged 15–19 become pregnant.

Governor Palin's daughter, who is pregnant, will soon become an unwed mother, or, more likely, a wife and mother at the tender age of seventeen. Governor Palin and her husband will step in, as parents should in such a situation, and somehow make things right for Bristol and her boyfriend Levi. This will be seen as a triumph of Christian ethics, and the pregnancy is certain to become an icon among anti-abortion groups.
Trouble is, of course, that the overwhelming number of teen-age mothers do not have Bristol Palin's background. No, they mostly come from impoverished parentage, and will survive largely on the public dole--food stamps, public housing, welfare, insufficient health care. Many will turn to drugs, prostitution or both, and help swamp a judicial system already overwhelmed. They will often have additional pregnancies by different partners, thereby, for all good purposes, sealing their fates and those of their children.
This, incidentally, is happening in all states including Alaska.

Here's installment 43 of Wasted Miracles

Colin declined Mamadou’s offer of a ride and walked home. The bar was less than a mile from his apartment building and it was a pleasant night, a full moon bathed the trees and the temperature had become bearable. He hoped Catherine had called, perhaps there was some news about Josie and the whole thing would be called off. The prospect of becoming too closely involved with the Senegalese bothered him.
Colin wondered whether the man might himself be a dealer, he seemed to know the workings of the street and drug cultures, but if that was the case, why volunteer to help? No, Colin thought. That doesn’t feel right. There was something else going on, something more complex.
Why had the man been so willing to talk? Colin replayed the conversation. It had been full of suppositions and inferences, but truth to tell there really hadn’t been that much concrete information given. With enough time, anyone could have gathered that knowledge. And yet through the unease he felt, Colin could also spot a measure of admiration. Policeman or not, it had taken nerve and audacity to face down the gang members. And the Senegalese had voiced no regrets.
By the time Colin reached his building it was nearly midnight. As he opened the door he saw Joe the Cop dozing on a bench in the vestibule, a copy of that morning’s Post on his lap.
“Hey, there you are! I was gonna give it five more minutes.” He folded the paper, put it his jacket pocket.
Joe the Cop wore a rumpled gray suit over a light blue shirt with a wide brown tie pulled loose at the neck. He had on thin white socks and cordovan wingtips. One of his shoes was unlaced.
“I just dropped by, hope you don’t mind.”
Colin shook his head. “No. Is this pigeon business?”
They headed for the elevator, waited. Joe said, “Nope, everything’s fine on that front. No screaming desires. I’m still doing it a day at a time and I have to admit it’s getting easier. This is something else. I thought you might want to know about it.”
The elevator stopped at Colin’s floor. Joe waited for Colin to unlock the door, made a beeline for the kitchen. Colin could hear him open the fridge, pour something in a glass, close the fridge again.
Joe asked, “Want anything?”
“No thanks.”
“Good, cause there’s not much in there and I just finished the last of your orange juice.”
He came into the living room, dropped his weight on the couch, noticed his untied lace. He took a moment to do it properly, pulled his tie off and stuffed it in a pocket, opened the two top buttons of his shirt. Then he glanced at his shoes, shook his head, toed them off. “Damn, that feels good.” He wiggled his feet, scratched an ankle.
“Better. Anyway. This is about your missing friend. I was at a meeting earlier, I’m trying to do one a day whenever I can, and afterwards I was hanging around the parking lot for a minute, see if there was anyone I know wanted to go for coffee. Got nothing better to do, and sometimes I don’t want to be at home. You know. I’m alone, sometimes I start thinking stuff I shouldn’t be thinking.” He looked up at Colin to make sure he understood. Colin nodded, rubbed his eyes. When Joe started talking, it was always a long haul. He allowed himself to sink into the chair.
“So I’m sitting there but turns out I don’t know anybody by name but I see these two girls, young women, early twenties, max. I’ve seen them around at a meeting or two they’re always together, one sponsors the other, I guess. I think maybe I’ve talked to them, you know, standard meeting-after-the-meeting shit. I catch the eye of one of them and she smiles, so I go over there and we start talking, nothing special, just shooting the breeze. And I think, ‘Well, what the hell, why not,’ and I ask about your friend, Josie. You know how it is, AA’s always small town, everybody knows everybody else or if they don’t, they know someone who does. That’s why they call it a fellowship, I guess.”
“They knew her?”
“Hang on, OK? Yeah, they do, but lemme tell the story, all right?” Joe paused, waited for Colin’s nod.
“Well at first they’re a little bit wary, you know? But that’s normal, young girls like that. There’s always some old fart trying to get close to ‘em after the meeting, impart his wisdom, that kinda shit, so I’m not offended. I mean, I think it’s pitiful, some of these guys hitting on women like they do, if I were a chick, I sure wouldn’t want anything to do with ‘em. But me, I look trustworthy, people always tell me that. I go on the scene, some crime crap, people tell me stuff. I tell the captain, ‘It’s a blessing.’ He should give me a raise.”
Colin said, “Josie?”
Joe nodded. “So anyway, yeah, they know her. They tell me about this meeting they go to, women only. Turns out it’s Josie’s meeting, she’s been chairing it for three, four months now, and she’s really good about it, makes sure the speakers are on time, coffee’s made, helps straighten the place out afterwards, that kinda thing. And she wasn’t there yesterday, a first, one of the girls says.
“Well, I say I know Josie a little--OK, it’s not true, but it’s not a big lie, either. I kinda know her, you could say. So we keep talking and I get the feeling that maybe they’re not all that nuts about her after all. And I’m right, they’re not, they think she’s kind of a control freak, as far as the meetings go. Apparently, conscientious as she is, she really runs that meeting like she owns it, nobody likes that shit, and these other two, they’ve been straight a lot longer, they don’t really care for that a lot. Matter of fact, in spite of Josie doing such a good job, there’s people who wanta see about turning the meeting over to someone else. You know how AA politics are... Come to think of it, I guess they’re no different from anyplace else, I guess. Be back in a minute.” Joe got up, went into the bathroom, closed the door. Colin took the opportunity to check his voice mail for messages. Nothing.
Joe reappeared holding a glass of water, sat back down.
“So, to make a long story short. We do go for coffee and like always it turns out we know a lot of people in common, you know, ‘Have you heard from so and so?’ and ‘Whatever happened to whosis,’ and ‘It’s so sad whatsisname went out again, but I knew it all the time.’ I told them I was a cop and that didn’t seem to phase ‘em. They asked about that guy who turned out to be the prostitute killer, you know, the one who dumped their bodies next to the Dulles access road, and I was a little involved in case. Anyway, the conversation drifts back to Josie, and they ask me whether I know the pigeon she’s sponsoring, someone new in the program who apparently looked like hell the first day she came in. Well of course I don’t, so we start talking about sponsors and incidentally, your name came up, Colin, one of them knows you by sight, called you ‘that huge guy.’” Joe the Cop smirked. “Course, I didn’t ask ‘em what part of you they found huge. OK, what it comes down to is that Josie was sponsoring someone new, a real young girl name of Mollie who came in maybe seven, eight weeks ago, and this girl, she’s like 17, looks like she could suck-start a Harley--one of the women said that, I didn’t--and made a big fuss during a recent meeting, started cussing and stuff, really took the group to task for being a bunch of snobs, not being friendly at all, and she accuses them of not treating her right because she’s a topless dancer and a heroine addict.
“Well Josie got her to quiet down, asked her to share her story so the other people can get to know her better, and she did. She’s a dancer in this club in DC, Pete’s Place. You might have heard about it, it’s right in the business district, next to MCI, the International Monetary Fund, couple of blocks from the White House. These legit businesses tried to prevent it from opening and couldn’t, and they’ve been trying to close it down and can’t. I think it’s mob owned. Real weird bar, bikers and a lot of druggies in there, but students and some high paid city bureaucrats too. Rough sometimes, gets the emergency squad at least once a week but it’s near George Washington University Hospital too. Kind of a tough job, being a dancer there, I’d guess. You know, you’re working on your recovery, it’s kinda like trying to maintain a diet in a bakery, but the tips are good, which is why she’s there, working in that bar, I mean.
“So the two women I’m talking to, after a while they have to leave, and I’ve got nothing to do so I go back to the station and hit the computer, because it seems to me I remember Pete’s Place was busted not too long ago, I think a couple of German tourists got stabbed right around there and the police finally had to do something, they don’t want another Miami in the Nation’s Capital, place has a bad enough rep as is, and lo and behold, there’s a Mollie Catfish--no shit, that’s her name--she was caught in the sweep. And I figure that’s got to be her. She gave a bogus address on the forms, by the way, and no phone number but nobody cared because she was clean, but she sure made an impression on a couple of the boys. Gary Smelk, this DC cop I play poker with sometimes--he’s in the program too, got six, seven years--he was part of the action that went into Pete’s and he just couldn’t stop talking about this girl. Tits out to there, he says, and a mouth on her like you wouldn’t believe. He said he’d give a week’s pay for an hour’s rack time with her.”
Colin said, “Hang on a second, Joe. Let me make a couple of notes.”
Hoe waited until Colin found a pen and some paper, continued. “Thing is, I don’t know where this Mollie lives, DC or Virginia, maybe even Maryland, she’s not in any of the phone books, maybe she just moved here, but I thought it might be helpful.”
He took a deep breath, added, “You know, it strikes me that I have a couple of days off coming up, so if you want, I could maybe kind of talk to her, find out whatever she knows if you like.” Joe looked at Colin expectantly. The prospect of finding and talking to such a woman had him interested.
Colin laughed, “Seems to me her recent experiences with the police might make you unwelcome. Save your days off, Joe. I’ll go look her up.” He paused. “That’s really her name, Mollie Catfish?”
Joe the Cop shrugged away his disappointment, nodded. “Yes indeed. North Carolina driver’s license. Probably a fake, it says she’s 18. Mollie Catfish. Isn’t that a hell of a thing? Imagine bein’ her daddy and hangin a name like that on your daughter. Should be against the law.”
***

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ooh baby baby!

Pay attention now: this may be the first time that an American election will be decided by a fetus. Come to think of it, that's about as viable as an election being decided by a right-wing Supreme Court justice...

I am trying to imagine the vetting interview with Ms. Palin:

"So, Governor, no skeletons, no deep dark secrets that might embarrass our candidate?"

"You know, I believe in sexual abstinence."

"That's great, Governor. Now, you're sure there's nothing the media could find out that..."

"Because, you know, abstinence is the only 100 percent way to avoid pregnancy and disgusting diseases. And I don't believe in condoms, no sir. Nasty things... Make me feel all creepy!"

"Governor, we have to know about potential dangers because, well, Senator McCain is old... He could drop dead and you'd be President, so anything at all..."

"Did I tell you I was Miss Wasilla? And I have guns, lots of guns. I'm Commander in Chief of the Alaska National Guard! And did you know we are the closest state to Russia? That should tell you something..."

"Yes, we knew that. Very impressive. So that's it, you're vetted. Congratulations and thanks, Governor!"

"Did I mention my seventeen-year-old daughter Bristol?"

"Oh, God, Governor! Don't tell me, she smokes marijuana! Is that it? Please don't tell me..."

"No, no, she's pregnant. She's going to have a little baby and get married, or maybe the other way around!"

"Oh my! What a relief... Pregnant and going to marry the father, you say? That'll play well with conservatives. I am so glad it wasn't marijuana... That would have been a real tragedy."



Here's installment 42 of Wasted Miracles.
“This is one of my favorite establishments,” the Senegalese said spinning a fork in his spaghetti. Colin knew the restaurant well, it was a favorite of the AA crowd, they all came to Angelo’s after the meetings and mostly drank coffee and sodas. Colin had never understood why the place was popular--the coffee was weak and the food mostly microwaved. Neither could he fathom Angelo’s hospitality towards a bunch of people who smoked heavily and rarely spent more than a couple of dollars apiece.
“It’s not that the food is that good,” the Senegalese continued. “Because it isn’t. I guess the fact that it’s open all night is a major advantage. I often come here after a job, three, four in the morning, and even if there’s not a single other customer, they carry the full menu and I get good service.” He forked the spaghetti into his mouth, chewed contemplatively. “You’re sure you don’t want anything? I’m buying. My nickel, as you Americans say.”
Colin shook his head. He toyed with a piece of pie, separating the apple quarters from the dough. It looked like a Mrs. Something-or-Other from the freezer section at Food Value, and not quite baked enough.
Mamadou tore a bit of garlic bread in half. “The photo you showed me? I took that. You may have deduced that by now. Incidentally, is that how you found me? The license plate?”
Colin nodded.
“I thought so,” Mamadou said. “The young man in the photo, of course I know him. He is--was, I should say--a fairly steady customer. Whenever he met a new lady I could count on his patronage. He liked to impress them, you see, and a limo is far cheaper than a Cartier watch or, for that fact, two nights at the Four Seasons or even a good suit. He was a dealer, a fairly minor player, actually, two or three steps up from the street corner.”
He paused, popped the bread in his mouth. “You know, of course, that he’s dead?”
“No. I didn’t.”
“Oh yes. Very dead. Not an important loss to society, but I’ll miss him as a client. He tipped well, never misbehaved in my cars.”
“Recently?”
“Two or three days, maximum. Found near Klingle Road, in Northwest. Stabbed. Shot.”
Colin nodded, thought about Joe the Cop’s master plan. “It was in the papers, but they didn’t identify him.”
“Correct,” said Mamadou. “But they don’t have to as far as the street is concerned. The people there know instantly.”
Angelo’s lobster-shift waitress was sitting at a nearby booth watching the science fiction channel on cable TV. A giant slug was sliming its way down the major avenues of what could have been Tokyo. Mamadou waved his hand in the air until he got her attention, ordered a piece of baklava and coffee. Colin nodded yes as she hovered the pot over his cup.
“His name was Herbie French. He was 32, went to law school at Georgetown for a couple of years, then decided there were too many lawyers already, so he opted to go into business for himself.”
Colin sipped at his coffee. It was lukewarm. “How do you know all this?”
Mamadou looked up, slightly annoyed. “I’m not deaf, Mr. Marsh. I drive people around all day and often all night. They talk. They don’t pay much attention to me. I listen.”
“Sorry.”
Mamadou picked up where he had left off. “So, as I said, he went into business for himself. Small transactions to start with, peddling amphetamines and such to his former classmates. Big business during exam time. Students stay up all night to study, they need a bit of artificial help. Herbie is there. One of his friends, a fellow student, turned out to be the son of a Colombian gentleman with connections. Herbie starts dealing cocaine. Very lucrative as I’m sure you know. In no time at all Herbie is making a lot of money. He uses my limo service with increasing frequency, gets to be quite a man about town. For a while, as a matter of fact, he hires my limos as rolling offices. Quite safe, you see. I have an excellent reputation about town. I cater to the diplomats, and more than one discreet meeting between representatives of nations that are not supposed to be on speaking terms has taken place in the back seat of my cars. The limos are swept for bugs before every new assignment, that’s one of the services we offer.” Mamadou Dioh tore another piece of bread in half, mopped up the sauce in his plate. “So Herbie is moving up in the world. But he’s a smart young man, Herbie is. He realizes that the higher he goes, the more visibility he acquires, the bigger the target he becomes. The drug business is rather ruthless, dog eat dog. Herbie made sure he kept a low profile, didn’t handle too much business. In effect, he became a large, small dealer. I suspect as well that he came to realize that there’s only so much money one individual can spend. After that, money becomes moot, and what you’re dealing with is power. Herbie, I think, was never really interested in power.
“As such things happen, the Colombian and his son, the people Herbie was now working for full time, meet with an unfortunate accident. You may have read about it, it made the papers, a really ruthless set of murders. Father and son were literally eviscerated, left to bleed to death with their entrails draped about them. The media did not carry the full story, of course, but one surprising thing that occurred shortly thereafter was that photos of the corpses, official pictures from the medical examiner’s office, started appearing in the street. The whole idea was to send a message, to advise dealers and suppliers that the father and son team had somehow offended another organization in town, one that didn’t shrink at acts of great violence.”
The Senegalese belched discreetly, covering his mouth. “All this talking has made me thirsty, Mr. Marsh. There’s a tavern down the street. Let’s go there and continue our conversation.” He signaled for the check, paid it with a twenty dollar bill.
In the bar, a place called Palmer’s, Mamadou ordered a scotch on the rocks, Colin asked for a ginger ale.
“You don’t drink, Mr. Marsh?”
“I’m allergic to alcohol.”
The Senegalese made a face. “How unfortunate. What happens.”
Colin smiled without amusement. “I get drunk.”
The Senegalese stared for a moment, burst out laughing. “What an excellent response! Consider me admonished, Mr. Marsh. Whether you drink or not is none of my business. I was only trying to make conversation.”
Colin nodded. “No offense taken. I’ve actually wanted to use that line for quite a while.” This time, his smile was genuine.
“Well.” Mamadou took a long sip of his drink, sighed contentedly. “Back to our friend Herbie. You’re not bored, I trust?”
Colin shook his head.
“Good. So Herbie is left without a supplier, and, I suspect, running scared. I think he may have actually left town for a while, but he eventually came back. And, to make a long story short, he finds gainful employment with the very people who deprived him of an employer.”
“Isn’t that a bit unusual?”
Mamadou sipped again. “Perhaps. But smart as well, if you think about it. Herbie was an experienced dealer with an established clientele, a ready-made market, if you will. And I’m sure that, when the new partnership was established, Herbie was made quite aware of what could happen to him if he was tempted to stray. As I mentioned, the photos were circulating, and I’m sure Herbie was given copies. A subtle reminder, so to speak.”
Colin emptied his glass, walked to the bar to get a refill, returned, sat down. “You found all this by listening to conversations in your car?”
The Senegalese made an attempt at being offended, failed. “Please Mr. Marsh, you make me sound like a common eavesdropper. No, of course I didn’t. But I have many, many clients, from all walks of life. Almost all of them talk. Like any other profession, they like to share the latest gossip. This holds true of deacons and drug dealers alike. And I have quite a few contacts on the street, including some with the police. On one or two occasions, I’ve offered the authorities very discreet help. They’ve shown their appreciation by sharing information with me.”
“And you obviously have a good memory.”
“No,” Mamadou said. “I have an excellent memory. And very strong powers of deduction, which is what made me a superior police officer in my native country. But mostly, Mr. Marsh, mostly it’s due to the fact that Washington is a very small town. And when you start dealing with the moneyed folks, the people who think nothing of spending a few hundred to rent a limo for a night, then the fact of the matter is, all these people know each other. Perhaps not directly, I’m not suggesting that the President of United First Bank is a personal friend of criminals, but I can guarantee you that somewhere, somehow, there’s a link. They’ll know people in common, see the same plays at the Kennedy Center, possibly rub elbows at the same restaurants after the performance. That’s how it works. Money knows money.”
He sat back, rattled the remaining ice in his drink.
Colin said, “And the girl, Josie. What were she and Herbie talking about that night, the time they were both in your car?”
Mamadou shrugged. “Of that I have no idea. There was no reason for me to notice.” He looked inside his glass as if to make sure it was empty. “Perhaps I haven’t made myself entirely clear, Colin--may I call you Colin? Good. I should have added that Herbie never bragged about his employment, particularly to the women he was with. To them he was a successful real estate entrepreneur, or a lawyer, or merely a young man with inherited wealth. I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if your young lady had no inkling of what he actually did for a living. As a matter of fact, I’d be willing to wager that she was totally unaware. He was handsome, he had money, he showed her a good time. She had no idea.”
It made sense. Colin glanced at the bar, took note of two teen-agers who seemed to be too young to be drinking. They wore baseball caps on backwards, slammed Budweiser from long-necked bottles.
He asked, “Why?”
Mamadou looked up. “Why what?”
Colin removed the printout from the Post’s online service from his pocket, unfolded it, slid it across the table. The Senegalese found a pair of thin reading glasses in a pocket, put them on. He scanned the page, smiled.
“Well, I’m honored. You’ve done your research.” He refolded the sheet, slid it back to Colin. “You have access to the Post files? The story’s essentially accurate. Some gunmen attacked me in my home. I defended it. I believe that’s one of the express rights I have in this country.”
“Just like that? Attacked you.”
“Absolutely. Burst into my living room. I had no choice.”
“Lucky you had weapons to defend yourself.”
Mamadou smiled. “Lucky indeed. I’m a former policeman, Colin. I was trained to handle weapons of all sorts, and in this violent nation of yours, it’s a right I exercised.”
Both men fell silent. The two teen-agers left. Mamadou laughed briefly. “That’s such a strange fashion, the baseball caps. It always makes me think their heads are facing the wrong way.”
Colin smiled. He hadn’t thought of it that way but he knew it was an image that would stick. “So where do we go from here?”
Mamadou raised an eyebrow. “We? I don’t know about ‘we.’ What I’ll do is ask around. Discreetly as always. There’re bound to be rumors. Everyone knows about Herbie’s fate by now. Maybe someone knows about his girlfriend’s fate as well.”