(Dedicated to The St. Valentine's Day Massacre)
Blood was running down the off-white wall. It left fat red stains like vertical-striping. Like the wall was painted with red slug slime. It formed into thin horizontal puddles along the cracks in the wood flooring. The spatter had covered half the room. The blood looked purple in the late-night blue light filtering in. Benny Bronson had offed himself.
"Ah, fuck man," Larry said, covering his face with his track-suit sleeve. "Smells like the place I put my mother up at. Smells like a thousand fuckers shat themselves in the corner."
He prodded the body with a .38. Skin moved and then repositioned itself, like the muscles were rubber, like the corpse was clay. It had been sitting there for a few days and the eyes were starting to melt out. Benny's skin was sagging ash. It was suede leather.
He had taken a cheap chink piece and jammed it into his mouth. The barrel dug into his pallet. The trigger squeezed fine. He was stupid and didn't use a hollow-point. He went for a hard-nose round instead and lived a fraction of a second longer. The round had blasted neatly through his cranium, barely damaging the frontal lobe. The real trauma came from the blowback - the stream of hot violent air that sent the top of his head up like a balloon and splashed his brains across the ceiling.
A piece of red-crusted bone fell and slapped Larry in the face.
"Jesus Christ," He screamed and jumped back, flicking the gore away like it was lye. "Fucking hell."
Benny had shot himself a few hours after his wife was finally gone. His left arm was still in the shitty nylon sling. He'd busted it up in a bar brawl a few days before that. Three fractures and no more business. Benny was a damn good boxer, but without both arms there was no money. No money for him, his family, and Marcozzi. But the love of his life bolting, that was the last straw.
Jack knew the damage from a quick scan of the room. The rest was narrated by Larry during the drive.
Jack looked at the body with a downward gaze. He sympathized with Benny in too many ways.
Jack wasn't some low-level package kid like Larry. He was a detective - Homicide and Robbery. He clashed with Larry's gold laced style in a cheap department store suit and overcoat. He hung back and smoked his unfiltered. He was called up by one of Marcozzi's attorneys. They asked him to find Benny, to find one of their prize fighters. Then he called Larry, and Larry took him to the dead man's apartment. Jack made an extra grand in fifteen minutes.
Jack wasn't a straight cop, but no one could ever call him bent. His grandfather, John May, was a mobster, so he held some respect for the Chicago families. His dad was one of the highest decorated Narcs to grace the CPD. To Jack, easy money for a job some other badge was going to do anyway was still easy money.
"Here wipe that shit off your face." Jack threw Larry his handkerchief.
"Bastard had nothing left, so he played the loser. Hold here for the blue suits. If they ask, say you're an informant. They won't touch you then."
Larry gave him a sour scared look. His face sweaty and body shaking from a coke crash. Pale at the mention of more cops. A dead stare from Jack made his tremors stop.
The one bedroom apartment was near empty since the wife had hauled off with anything of value. All that was left was a cheap dial radio, a cot, no real dishes, no food, no decorations. The place was barebones and cold. Just like how Benny left the world. The apartment was catching a draft from a cracked window. It felt like a crypt. For the time being, it was a crypt.
Jack gently closed the splintering front door. He stepped out down the rickety stairwell and into the street. It was nearing eleven and the rest of Delaware was calm. There was a dope-slinger on the corner, hands dug into pockets clutching palm-baggies. Eyes shifting in BOLO mode. There were a few party-hounds hustling back in tight clothes, reeking of fruity drinks and sex-sweat. Their eyes flicked on and off Jack in a split second. He looked like a nobody and a cop, so the pretty and petite crowd wanted nothing from him.
No one trusted cops. Jack knew this from when he was growing up and hustling at nine-ball down on the Southside. He knew it when he was in 'Nam dealing with MPs and Spooks. And he knew it even more now. He was lucky to have a drink and not get hassled.
Jack opened the door to his '74 Lincoln. The car smelled of aged leather and stale nicotine. A portable red siren was on the dashboard. A city-issued radio scanner was shoved in under the ashtray. He flicked the radio knob and clicked the open channel button on the receiver.
"This is Detective Jack May: I have a body over on Delaware in Washington Square. Can't remember the damn code for a suicide, but that's what it is. Need a meat wagon and forensics. Look for a short kid in fifty pounds of gold. Out."
He cranked the ignition and headed north. He hooked onto Kedzie from Delaware and did a straight-shot to his apartment in Bucktown. He took a piss-stop at a slum gas station, bought some more cigarettes, and made a call from a payphone.
"Meet me at my place for some relief, because God fucking knows I'm on the verge of burning this town." He said gnawing on an unfiltered.
The soft voice said they'd be up in a quarter, then clicked gone.
He stopped at a liquor store and dropped ten bucks on a bottle of T.W. Samuels and a six-pack. The night was blitzed with blow-torch stars and a razor-cut moon. Jack was on his way to alcohol poisoning. A place nicer than the rat-packed restaurants he passed, and the dreams he still had when he closed his eyes.
Seven hours later Jack woke up, hung-over and sore. Jewels had left a while ago, leaving the other side of the bed cold and lifeless. The sheets were still wrinkled and the pillow was caked with hints of makeup and perfume. The loneliness made him feel even more like shit. He groped around his nightstand for a remedy. He didn't find his gun, so he started shaking beer cans. One was still half-full. He swigged and it tasted warm and stale and ashy. He swallowed a spent cigarette butt and grimaced as it went down. His eyes refocused to the dark. He looked at the calendar: February 14th 1979. He stumbled half-naked and frustrated to the kitchen table. Three shots were left in the T.W. bottle. He finished the bottle like it was the only thing keeping him alive.
The fourth floor apartment was a small renovated shit-hole on the north side of Western Avenue. It overlooked Rosehill Cemetery and was one of the cheaper places on the block. Jack lived in a single. The bedroom was a little larger than a Cook County cell. The main room was concrete-walled and long. There was a black-and-white TV next to a sofa and a chipped ply-wood panel on some milk crates. A stainless butcher-block kitchen table divided the living room from the kitchen. It was covered in booze bottles. Take-out boxes. Files and empty cigarette packs. The kitchen was filled with cheap bachelor's appliances and more condiments than real food. Everything smelled like smoke and disappointment.
Jack lit up a cigarette and ran his hand over his five-day stubble. He wandered back into the bedroom and rummaged through a few drawers for a business card. He grabbed a black rotary phone from
the night-stand and dialed.
An answering machine picked up.
You have reached Dr. Goldfarvre's office. If this is a medical emergency hang-up and dial 911. If you need to set an appointment, leave your name and a number you can be reached at. Thank you.
"Goldfarvre, you motherfucker." He gripped the receiver so hard the plastic cracked. "Pick up, please. I know we ended on a bad note. Now that I think of it, throwing your filing cabinet through a third story window wasn't really productive for either of us. I'm sorry. I just need someone to talk to, you know? It's hell-day and I really need an ear. You have my number. I doubt you'll call, but I thought I'd try."
He slammed the receiver back on the cradle. His eyes skimmed the calendar again. Jack threw the phone. The cradle flew like a brick and shattered the bedroom window. The cord wrapped around one of the fire-escape bars and hung off the ledge. It became a hangman. Glass shards twinkled like polished quartz. The wood floor turned into a galaxy.
Jack stood up and stretched. His body was lean and covered in scars. A few bullet-holes from raids into Cambodia. A slash-scar up his right rib-cage from a switch-blade standoff in a pool hall when he was seventeen. A mural of the battle between St. Michael and Satan covered his back. Fire and wind mixed and spiraled. A winged-knight ran his sword through a black dragon as the black dragon ripped out the knight's throat. The outside light painted his body ghost colors. He headed for the shower mumbling death-prayers.
Jack went through the Grand Central Division's doors dressed in black and gray. His overcoat hung stiff as he walked towards his desk, head low and poker-faced. His desk was varnished oak and covered in unfinished files. There was a classic green-glass desk-lamp in the right corner and a few stray bullets hid among the loose papers. Jack shucked off his coat. There was a leather shoulder-holster underneath, strapped around his back and hanging on his left side. His badge dangled loose around his neck. Other detectives and beat cops talked. Drank coffee. Filed complaints. Made source calls. The noise was suffocating to anyone who didn't work there.
Julie Clark sat at the desk across from him. Jack always called her Jewels because of her sapphire eyes. It was supposed to be her day off. But she never really left the station unless she was hallucinating from lack of sleep or horny. She was sitting and typing up reports in a dark red satin blouse that matched the color of her hair. Jewels was a few years younger than him and a third generation cop. She made detective because of her dad. She kept it based on her own will. She was tough as coffin nails and worked the part. Running every morning. Hitting the gym almost every night. It kept her lithe and quick and harder than Jack had been in years. She gave him the slight half-smile she always did.
"How are you holding up?" She asked, typing out another affidavit report for the Oldtown slayings.
"I'm still standing. Standing like my knees were racked by a sledgehammer, but still standing."
"Look, Jack, I know what today is. You shouldn't be here. You should be drunk or asleep or something. You should be coping-"
"Yeah, I know. But I'm bound to do something stupid today, might as well be productive first."
She gave him a sincere look. Eyebrows knit and her half-smile turned to a frown. He sat down trying to ignore her empathy. He poured over late reports finishing them with his dad's old ink-well pen. Robbery and Homicide had issued everyone Remington typewriters. Jack had turned his Remington down, priding himself on his handwriting. It was about the only thing he prided himself on now. The forms filled with neat black ink. His right hand wrote and his left hand lined up the stray rounds he found as the desk cleared. After two hours there was a fat stack of manila folders on the right side of the desk and a clip's worth of .45 bullets on the left.
Jewels watched him the whole time. She would hunt and peck out on the old Remington, but her eyes constantly were locked on his bowed head. Jewels was one of those women that acted like a marble wall. Impossible to see through, to really understand. She didn't even completely understand herself.
She had been Jack's partner for three years. She'd been fucking him for one. She'd been fucking him since his ex-wife ran back to Massachusetts. She knew why he hated the 14th. But he would never talk about it. Not to her. Not to anyone. The last time he talked about it was with his therapist, and that ended with a broken window and three people in the ER.
She felt something for him, though. He never noticed it, but she felt it every time she ran her hand along his scars. Every time she tasted cigarettes on his tongue when they kissed. Every time he spoke with his north-side punk slang. She hated the fact that she felt like a little girl around him. It was to the point that she could barely talk to him about anything personal or stare him in the eyes or ignore him when he called for a drunk fuck at midnight on the bad days. She never stayed the whole night because she was afraid of how she'd act if she saw him in the morning.
She was in love with a man who was barely alive.
Jack looked up when he finished writing. He caught Jewels eyes. He knew what she was doing. He spread his hands on his desk and ran through about a million different statements. His desk phone rang before he could speak. It was Lt. Richardson. Jack just shrugged and walked the desk-path to the back offices. Richardson's door was weak wood with a waved-glass window marked with the occupant's name.
Richardson was a squat bulldog with a cue ball head. He wore a pinstriped shirt and suspenders and rolled up sleeves. He looked like he could break the devil's back over his knee.
"You wanted me?" Jack said.
"The fuck are you doing here, May?"
"I wanted to get the rest of my paperwork finalized."
"You shouldn't be here. You should be home grieving. You should be home in a coma. You should be doing something to help. You know it's one year-"
"Don't talk about it, please. Lieutenant."
"I mean the charges that IA and those civil rights lawyers have been laying on you..."
"I know, but nothing stuck, so nothing's wrong."
"Look you have no reason to fucking crack some punk's skull with your gun. You got no reason to throw an innocent sus-"
"He had pictures of naked seven year old girls. They were his god damn students."
"You still have no fucking right! Even if you lost your-"
The steel chair Jack had been sitting in crashed into the wall behind Richardson. It was still unfolded. The legs punched through the wall. It looked like someone had glued it in place so they could play astronaut. Plaster dust lingered in the air.
"Jack get the hell out. Go mourn. Go fucking home. Just leave."
Jack had his jacket on his back and was heading out the door within ten seconds. Jewels eyes were on his back the whole time, wishing she could fix him.
Jack drove around and tried to cool. He smoked hard and debated whether or not to start firing at the Buick in front of him. He thought that the driver was too slow and that their gray hair would look nice with red stains.
He slithered around downtown. Steering loose and trying to clear his thoughts. All he could see was his ex-wife, Becky, washing a bloody sheet with more blood. All he could see was his dad's headstone. All he could see was his granddad's headstone. All he could think of was painting the world in hues of red and walking out into Lake Michigan until he couldn't touch sand. He drowned out anything that involved Becky or Jewels or something pleasant. He saw a picture of a boy that had his eyes and his same stone smile.
When he came back to the real world he was parked outside Park Place Towers. He was parked outside his brother's place.
His brother Eric was a pervert and a con-man and the only other thing breathing from his bloodline. Eric cranked out his days conning grandmothers into pyramid schemes and housewives into buying pointless novelty appliances. It fed his porn habit and his rent.
The doorman didn't look at Jack. The people in the lobby didn't either. The elevator was quick and made creaking noises. Everything smelled sterile. Eric lived on the fourth floor and always left his door unlocked.
Everything Jack was, Eric wasn't. Eric was overweight and covered in grease and dry-sweat. He smelled like a rest stop toilet. Jack went in through the foyer, by the grime-caked kitchen nook, and into the living room that overlooked the lake. His brother was humping a leather couch in his boxers. He was staring at a new playboy and grunting like a boar. Jack could see the top of Eric's head pop up over the couch's back after every thrust.
Jack walked up to the couch, slid his foot underneath the frame, and lifted. The piece of furniture flipped over and the floor shook.
"What the fuck?" Eric struggled to pull his body from under the wreckage.
"You're fucking a couch to Miss February on the same day that dad and granddad died and you're asking questions? C'mon we're going to Rosehill to pay our respects. Maybe you can stop putting your cock into inanimate objects and actually do something of substance."
Eric pulled himself out and sat cross-legged on the ground. Dick still out and partially erect. Neither one of them cared. This wasn't the first time Eric had fucked a couch and it wasn't the first time that Jack had flipped a couch on his brother.
"The hell Jack? You could've just asked instead of nearly killing me."
"This ceiling would have to fall on you to kill you. You have enough fat nowadays to absorb a baseball bat to the gut. Now throw on some pants. We'll buy some flowers on the way."
"You know I don't put weight on that shit. 'Flowers die' and all that jazz. Man, Jack you're just trying to avoid-"
"No, that isn't it, and you better know it. I just want to go and say a prayer for dad and then head out. It's been a year, I'm over it all."
"Like hell. You still won't even listen to any mention of 'it'. Jack I know you may be the vet and the dick, and I may be the sad black sheep, but I can at least get over shit."
"I am over it." Jack clenched his jaw and wondered what Eric would look like with his face imbedded into the floor.
"You are over it just as much as you're over the war. You came back fucked up and ice-eyed. You didn't move the same or talk the same. You changed like someone had given you a lobotomy. As far as I can see it everything finally erupted when he-"
Jack was forced into the service when he was arrested for burglary in 1967. He was offered two choices: a tour in Vietnam or three to five in Cook County. The choice was simple. The problem was that Jack was good at killing and good at surviving, so they traded him to the Studies and Observations Group. It was a group that was supposed to be recon. Instead they were sent on search and destroy raids. He ran three tours, came back with a few medals, and had a family. His family said he was different when he stepped off the plane. The only change he noticed was that he liked war. He liked violence. It was who he had always been. Vietnam just confirmed it. It was what lurked deep inside. So he signed on to the CPD, and with his father's name and his service record they put him on the homicide fast-track. Everything was fine aside from the constant IA shakedowns for excessive force. That was until February 1978.
Jack snapped. He got so close to his brother's face that his spit coated Eric's cheeks.
"I am over it. I am cleaned. I am absolved. I have gone a year. A long fucking year. He's in the ground. Same place as granddad and dad and mom and everything. I am good. I am fan-fucking-tastic. You stay here and cum all over those glossed pictures. You can keep ripping off pensions and allowances. Live your life. I'm living mine."
He left his brother wide-eyed and shivering. He was lying through his teeth. He felt the black-hole in his stomach grow. He saw the world fade. Like throwing turpentine on a painting. Everything turned gray. The streets were screaming the truth.
Jack bought two white roses from a Korean grocery store and maneuvered back towards his apartment. Towards Rosehill Cemetery. He parked on the thru-road. The dirt walkway was littered with cigarette butts and pebbles and brown glass. Weeds were overgrown around the trees and the grass was clumped into yellowed patches.
The path cut around tombstones and eventually reached the May family plot near the west fence. He placed one rose on Benjamin May's plot. The granite engraving read: Father. Son. Husband. Hero. March 18th 1925 – February 14th 1970. He whispered a prayer he remembered from grade school. The next tombstone was veined and weathered. John May. The inscription read: Hate the sin. Love the sinner. July 22nd 1899 – February 14th 1929. He stared blank for a few seconds. He forced his eyes to avoid the last marker in the line. The smallest headstone. The freshest headstone.
He left Rosehill. Darkness was strangling the last light from the sky. He walked,
shaking and needing whiskey more than air.
He went to one of his regular dives over in Lincoln Park. The neon sign read "Deuces High". It was a juke-joint running on life-support, because it didn't play pop. Lefty, named because he lost his left hand to the VC, was manning the bar and threw back a shot of tequila with his right hand as Jack walked in. The place was a refuge for vets and fuck-ups. There were a few teenage kids sipping beer and shooting pool. There was an ancient man in a back booth, the guy that every bar has, who doesn't talk and drinks until he passes out. Jack walked by a midget who was moving on a ditz that modeled herself off of Marilyn Monroe.
"Bottle of Wild Turkey." Jack threw down a twenty and lefty popped the bottle stopper with one hand, poured a high ball, and left the bottle on the counter next to the glass. He worked without struggle. Like it was natural. Jack downed the first glass and made a second.
The midget kept moving on the ditz. He touched her. He whispered to her. He grabbed her breasts. He sucked her neck. Jack was annoyed and tried not to look or hear. The midget did his work and so did Jack. After twenty minutes the bottle was a fourth of what it used to be and the midget had his stubby hand down the ditz's panties.
"Oh, Tim." Jack's eye ticked and he stopped midway through draining his glass.
"Hey buddy could you stop that? Go back to some place. Some dark place with no windows. I'm not looking for a sex show tonight."
The midget glared at him and continued. The ditz continued to moan the name "Tim". Tim was in a powder blue wife-beater and black slacks. He was muscular in the way that most little people are. Jack's knuckles whitened around the glass.
"Look I asked you to stop. Today's been hell, going to still be hell later, going to be fucking hell tomorrow. So, just fucking cut it out or I will arrest you." He flashed his badge.
"I don't care if you're a pig or what. You're just a nosy cunt. A drunk who will always be a drunk. And you're just jealous I'm going to be riding this pretty thing until sunrise. So try what you want." He flashed a .25 from his waistband.
"You had the choice."
Jack was hammered. And he was mean when he was hammered.
The highball, half-full, shattered across the midget's nose. Shards cut across his cheeks and lips. Jack grabbed the midget by his wife-beater and started laying right jabs. The midget's face leaked bloody waterfalls and bone splinters poked through his chin. Jack handcuffed him and dropped him in the corner.
"Lefty call a beat unit and here's something for the disturbance." Jack dropped two more twenties and hit the sidewalk.
Jack stumbled down towards the SMC garage. A place he was taken to when he was six. The place where his granddad died. The place where Capone made history with a few mobsters in cop uniforms and Tommy-guns. His knuckles were bruised and busted to the bone. His eyes on the verge of tears. The night was covered in motor oil, cigarette stars and an acid moon. Cars slid by on rough asphalt. People flowed in and out of buildings like salt-water. The name the bitch had been moaning was still echoing in his head.
He saw shadows sleep-walk against headlights. The breaking of bottles and alcoholic howls formed a musical score to his movements. They moved him back to a year ago. He saw a little brown haired boy sprawled outside the same garage he was heading to. His body rag-dolled in an unusual position. His eyes clouded and mouth open. A bullet-ripped hole tunneled through his throat. Red stains soaked into his brown-striped shirt.
"He was six!" Jack called into the night. Hoping something was listening. Something would hear him. Something could help him. "He was six and a bullet caught him in the throat."
Jack found the garage. It was broken down. The walls layered in spray tags. The windows yellowed and shattered. Black candles were burned out next to animal skeletons. Kids had tried to bring out ghosts with spells and chants. All Jack had to do was show up and the ghosts poured into him. They stood in front of the garage door.
Tim stood there, mouth open. Face white. Air whistling through the hole in his trachea. John May stood next to him, holes in his body. His flesh Swiss-cheese. Jack thought he was having a flashback. They offered their arms. Jack threw fists at them. A crack-head at a cross corner saw Jack punch the breeze and wondered if he was still high. Jack tripped into the garage and collapsed onto the floor. He rolled in the filth crying. Grease-water. Old engine-dust. Loose paint. Hobo piss. It clung to his clothes.
He tore out his pistol from its holster and put it under his chin. His finger pressured back the trigger.
"What're you doin' buddy?" A voice came from the corner-shadows. More ghosts out to haunt the living.
"My boy. I need to see my boy again." The tears on Jack's face glowed from salt-lamp light leaking through the broken windows.
"Why today, buddy?"
"He died today. He fell like my dad. Like my granddad. They all died on the same day. Tim left last year. He left me last year."
A man with a dirt-crusted beard and soiled white sweatshirt crawled out of the shadows. He looked Jack dead in the eyes.
"Buddy, you gotta realize something. There's always tomorrow."
Jack couldn't look away. The hobo's eyes were warm and alive. Jack stopped writhing.
Sleep covered him like a shroud. The black became a warm blanket. The painter's brush began to touch the world again as Jack's eyelids closed.
The homeless man gave Jack a brown and yellow smile and squeezed his shoulder.
"There's always tomorrow, son." He said as he stepped out into the refreshed night.