The torch beam hits Ed Greene full on and he responds by talking to Jesus. The detective is a large man, big enough to fit almost any circumstances. He does not feel at home in confined spaces. This is a confined space.
“Jarvis, quit with the torch all the time, would you?”
Michael Jarvis a decade and some younger, a foot shorter, powerfully built and with a smile that can stop a car, recognises his partner’s tone. Greene is a slow burner but when he gets there, explosions occur.
“Are we wasting our time down here?” Jarvis voices his doubts. The sewer is not any kind of place he has an itch to visit. The drops of water, he hopes its water, that land on his head here and there are not going to relax him. Plus, there’s the problem of his shoes. Shoes are not made for sewer dwelling. Especially not these frackin’ shoes.
“We got nothin’ else to go on,” says Greene. He is bent almost at the waist. His head is horizontal to the sloping, grime and slime of the tunnel walls. He thinks he can hear rats and his stomach is telling him he is hungry. It’s been one hell of a shift.
“I’m not buying it, man. Why would he come down here? This ain’t the movies. A man can’t live down here.”
“Sometimes, Jarvis; I think your standards are a touch high. What’s wrong with down here?” The real Greene is coming back into view. The one at the start of the fuse and Jarvis is grateful. He wouldn’t like to witness a full on temper tantrum down here. The echoes would hurt.
“Tell you what we’ll do, my young friend. We’ll climb out of this shit hole and pass the detail on to the night shift. I’m not exactly excited about the prospects but I’m pretty sure our man is hiding down this very hole.”
Jarvis needs no second invitation. He floats back up the ladder like he’s moving across a dance floor. The smooth dude in the white shoes. For all his by-the-book inclinations, Jarvis dresses like a man with a plan to impress. So long as he is at a Motown Party and the year is nineteen Seventy Three. Greene clambers up behind him, all elbows and knees and not enough space to operate in. He skins his knuckles near the manhole cover and lets out another curse. This one has something to do with dogs and intercourse.
“Jesus, Jarvis. Those are some nice shoes but you need to change your aftershave.”
“You don’t smell so good yourself, Ed.”
So how do you break a day like this down? Jarvis drives the car; Greene scribbles some notes in the binder that he generally leaves in the foot well. The thing reads like the disconnected ramblings of a C.S.I. addict. Names, underlines, circles, arrows, doodles and a large NO SHIT make no sense to anyone other than Greene. He seems to be able to find his way around however and searches out the name Minter. When he finds it, he adds sewer. Nothing more and yet this seems to satisfy him.
“Tell you what, Jarvis; this guy might just be capable of cuttin’ off heads. I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of him yet.”
“Bit of a leap. One missing college kid to cutting off heads. Where’d you get that theory?”
“Same place as the others,” Greene taps at his temple with the stump of a pen that he probably found at the race track. “In this ideas factory. Damn good service over the years. I’m not sayin’ I’ve bought the car yet but I’m kickin’ the tyres and the engine’s good. ”
“Maybe you should check the warranty. This one sounds like a long shot.”
Everyone in D.C. was talking about some freak removing heads and spiking them in very public places. Three so far and Capitol Hill is shitting itself after dark. This kind of thing is bad for the nerves and it brings headlines that induce panic. None of which is helpful when the weird man is still loose. Jarvis concedes that there could be a connection but he isn’t sold.
“Let’s say for arguments sake…”
“There’s no other sake.”
“For arguments sake, that this guy is one and the same as the guy who is spiking these heads around town. I don’t see that guy hanging out in no sewer. I think he’s got to be a loner but this dude has neighbours. He wants to be noticed. He’s making statements.”
Jarvis is animated as he drives. His hands dive around cutting up the air and making the case. Greene always wonders what Jarvis would have been had he not been a cop. The kid grew up dirt poor in a building that came fitted with a toe tag. Everywhere he went and everywhere he looked, dealers hung out. For Jarvis to have overcome that stuff, Greene sometimes thinks his talents are wasted. He drives a good debate and he leans to logic most of the time but Greene’s curve balls and leaps of instinct often provide the missing pieces to Jarvis’ framework. As a team, it ain’t the best but it works.
“What statement is he makin’?”
“If we knew that, we’d be a whole shoe size closer to finding him.”
“You think it might be a God thing?” Greene squints, from the binder to the windscreen and looks across to his partner.
“Don’t start on the God thing Greene; I’m not in the mood.”
“Told you before, when it ain’t a sex thing or a power thing, it’s almost always a God thing.”
“I know your stance. Let’s drop it.”
“You know, for a man of faith, you can be very snappy.”
This is a regular exchange. Growing up amongst people looking the other way so hard that they broke their necks, Jarvis has attended some church. He has attended a lot of church. Truth be told, he has attended more out of respect for his maternal Grandmother than anything else. Faith is a big word. Not one that Jarvis throws around and on any given day he can be anywhere on the spectrum of belief.
Greene has to prod the scab. Has to ask. They had slipped into this routine at some forgotten stage of their partnership. They have been paired for three years now. All of it homicide. They have seen enough body outlines, body bags, bullet casings and ruined corpses to know when to ask and when to shut the hell up.
Much of their time is tough, lots of it routine and they have formed the kind of trust that men with guns and badges tend to forge. When they speak about the job, Jarvis calls his partner Greene. When they discuss general shit, he is Ed. Ed calls Jarvis by his last name the entire time.
Ed is the kind of man, probably rolls into his own lounge at the end of a shift and addresses his own wife as Greene. It’s just who he is. It suits Jarvis too. He has the misfortune of sharing his name with a father who forgot who the hell he was when he was three years old.
They pull the car up in front of a Seven Eleven. Greene needs food. Thing that size, takes a lot of food. He unfolds himself in creaking stages and heads into the relative shade of the store. The clerk is reading. He is a forty-ish moustache with a propensity to spread softly at the middle. He glances up from his paper. His mouth unhinges and he can’t help himself.
“Good Lord, a’mighty. How tall are you?”
“Just had this conversation. Ain’t got nothin’ to do with no good Lord.”
“You gotta be seven two.”
“Nope. Ain’t even close.”
“You gotta be, like what? Seven foot? Help me out here.”
“I’m six eleven. Now what you say we stop making eyes at one another and you get me one of those baguettes and a strong coffee?”
“Hey, whatever you say. Jeez, I think the sun went in.”
Most of the time, Greene takes this kind of shit with a weary indifference. He passed the six foot stage so long ago; his voice had still been hitting the high notes, his balls nestling in a single bag. The clerk furnishes him with the required items and money changes hands.
Greene likes to do his shopping in places where none of the souls gathered within know he is a cop. Since blending in can be a problem, no good reason can be attached to wearing a target.
“You play ball in school? You should be a point guard.”
“Nope. Never could find the inclination to chase a man in his underwear just because he is carryin’ a ball.”
The clerk fails to register any reaction across his face and Greene leaves it. Experience has shown him that people are often unsure of how to take his sense of humour.
Back in the car, Jarvis seems elsewhere. He takes a coffee and offers up a pleasant church boy thanks but his mind has left the scene. “What gives?” asks Greene. It’s one of his favoured questions and it covers a whole range of situations. Flexibility is important in an opening question. Jarvis has heard this question a lot and has elected not to play. “Hey, Jarvis, I just asked what’s eatin’ you? Where are you?”
“Man, they got another head case.”
“No, I mean another head case. The psycho gave some other poor bastard a haircut.”
“What’s the story?”
“This is just around the block from Union Station. Another guy. That’s three guys, one woman so far.”
“Let’s hope this nut job is plannin’ a summer vacation.”
“No sign of him slowing up any just yet.”
“I’d love to know what’s drivin’ this.”
Jarvis engages the gear shift and pulls away. A white van cuts in and blares a complaint. Greene holds his badge up to the wind shield, dead centre, adds “pipe down, asshole” under his breath.
“You takin’ this head stuff personally?”
“Damn straight. This crap is costin’ me down time. How about you?”
“I never like it when someone is going around altering the population with no just cause. This guy though, he’s something else. Can you not feel it, Greene? People are worried. They’re panicking. I’ve not heard this much nervous chatter since the sniper started lining up cans on the beltway.”
“You want in on the team?”
“My guess is that we’ll be pulled in anyway. Like it or not.”
“Well, that’s the job. It’s what the city is payin’ us for.”
“It ain’t that, Greene. You know me good as anyone; you know I ain’t afraid of doing my job. What bothers me is that when someone is this unhinged, I’m finding more and more that I want to act outside of the law.”
Greene’s eyes make perfect O’s for a moment. “Are you talkin’ about some vigilante shit, here? Mr By-the-book police procedure, paragraph eight, sub-section six?”
“I’m just thinking that sometimes, we’d be more effective if we didn’t have to arrange health and safety clearance and call a fracking press conference every time we wanted to go ask someone a question.”
“Lawyers too. Man I hate lawyers. Maybe we should sponsor someone to pick those assholes off.”
“Have we traded brains here? Have the Martians been kickin’ their shit around again when I was in the Seven Eleven?”
“I’m serious here, Greene. Why can’t we go and get in some faces and push people around a little? We’re so busy trying not to step out of line and breach procedures; we should be smacking people in the chops and forcing a reply.”
“Now you’re on the train. Welcome to the party, Jarvis. It’s good to have you join us.”
“Look, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to spend my whole time beating people but sometimes you have to speak the language of the people you deal with.”
“Look, I prefer a quiet life myself but if I have to spend all summer slammin’ heads to find the guy who likes cuttin’ the things off, I’m up for that.”
Ed Greene sits in the den and drinks beer and watches sports and drinks some more beer. Connie is visiting with a friend and the kids are off in their private corners of the house, doing their own thing. He mulls over disconnected fragments of details that pull at his gut wire. Sometimes, you have to chew a thing through before it tastes right. And sometimes you have to know when to let go and let it work on you in the dark.
This head guy, man. He has the whole force and half of the city wondering on his next move. Cases like this can make or kill a career. Greene has seen it before. He’s no piss the pants rookie with a new badge and a yearning for collars. Thing is, D.C. has its share of homicide action. Greene and his colleagues are not forced to go looking. Like a slow horse or a beer chaser, it’ll find you when you sit easy and wait.
Greene wants no part of any glory. His transfer request to a desk job has been pending so long; he thinks the Captain may have wiped his crack on it. Let Jarvis and his school play the tough guy games. All Greene is after now is the slow lane to a pension.
His vision slips some and he likes the effect, likes the fact that the basketball has gone blurry and fights the temptation to re-adjust his focus. He likes to hold the haze for a few seconds. Keep that part of his head to himself and bring it back when he’s ready.
“Forty six is too young for retirement, too old for chasin’ down psychos with the horn,” he is talking to the cat. The cat isn’t involved.
His phone breaches the peace and the caller I.D. says Shitsville. Its Greene’s private little joke.
“Ed, you might want to come in and take a look at something, you get the chance.”
“Well, I’m not back in until the mornin’ and since I don’t want a DUI or a divorce, you’re gonna have to get by without me.”
“Who crapped in your bed?”
“Aw Menzies. Did I forget to buy you flowers?”
“Come on Greene, why are you always such a prick?”
“Oh man, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I like havin’ a life away from work.”
“Look, I’m just telling you Greene, Captain wants you to take a look at something when you get in. Whenever that is.”
“Right on, Menzies. Will do. Now go take your face for a shit.”
Menzies is alright, really. Just a gofer. Just a messenger. Just thinks he’s an expert and never gets the right tone, no matter the occasion. Greene is indifferent to most people at the precinct. They could be wallpaper or plant pots. He sees them everyday and who gives a rat’s ass? Menzies is tough to ignore. One of those slime merchants, puts on a pinstripe and a bow tie, thinks he’s Einstein’s eccentric cousin. Greene has seen more interesting sneeze deposits. Still, Menzies isn’t asking his opinion and as always with a man like Menzies, he resides so firmly up the Captain’s butt hole than he can reach out a little and touch teeth.
Since Connie is a light and fitful sleeper, she sleeps in the back room when Greene hits beer time. Beer time happens less frequently than Greene would like but he sleeps like a billionaire on cannabis. When he sleeps he snores. When he snores, people look for the low flying aircraft. Connie lays alone tonight when she returns and Greene moves the sheets around in an oblivious fog of dreams that include low ceilings and a pin striped moron.
The nerves have other origins, too. Years of being married to a street pounding cop about the size of a high school, has given her reason to be nervous. Greene’s size, added to his smart mouthing put down’s of perps and superiors has always placed him high on the most likely lists. Most likely to get shot, most likely to get fired, most likely to get shot whilst being fired. Greene has made his way through a number of partners. Jarvis is a man with a skill in seeing past the legend and picking the pepper from the fly shit when it comes to the important stuff. Jarvis knows that Greene, if rightfully motivated, can see an unreliable witness through walls. The man knows people. He knows how angry people think. He knows how people so jacked up with fear that they can’t look at mirrors think. Greene just gets it. Jarvis knows that way too many cops don’t even know what the it is.
When Greene finds Jarvis using the coffee machine before roll call, he already has the skinny on the story that Menzies had been getting hard for the night before.
“You hear the news, hot shot?” Greene picks out the white tie beneath the otherwise casual undercover wardrobe of his main man. “Wait, before you answer that; you playin’ a pimp today? If you are, I’m givin’ a very generous discount on tooth picks if you pay cash and buy bulk.”
Jarvis just looks. Actually, in the interest of accuracy, Jarvis looooooks.
“I’m serious, talk to me first. Wal-Mart can’t get near my bottom line.”
“I got out of bed early for this?”
“What’s early for you, these days?”
“If I actually thought you were interested, I might answer you. The knee’s good again, I went for a run before I came in.”
“Man. Runnin’ before work. You know how I feel about that.”
“I know. I’ll quote you at your funeral.”
“Look, what’s the information. The place is buzzing like a party at my place.”
“The night shift found enough to link Minter to the college girl.”
“Shit. You’re right, we really where wastin’ our time yesterday. Minter. Minter is the sewer guy.”
“What’s the link?”
“They found a beret in his bag that matches one she is known to have been wearin’ when she was last eye balled. The bag was found not far from where we were yesterday. Thing’s got enough in it to suggest a very strong likelihood. His driver’s license was in there. Not the smartest sociopath.”
“That’s not promising. Why’d Menzies call me about that?”
“He called you, too?”
“Said you’d been a jerk.” Greene clutches at his chest. “He did? Do you think it’s over between me and him?”
“Well, there ain’t gonna be no tongues, cowboy.”
“In that case, I’ll just have to satisfy myself with a finger in his ass.”
“I’m serious, Greene. When you ever know a call at home over a single piece of evidence?”
“I just figured Menzies was lonelier than normal. You’re right. Never. What you think?”
“We’re about to find out, let’s go.” Jarvis nods toward the filtering uniforms and undercover guys shuffling into the briefing room. He had always imagined Hill Street Blues growing up. It was near enough.
Duty Sergeant Andy Hall took the podium. He had graduated from the academy at the exact same parade as Greene. Difference was a smaller mouth and a sensible head. For all that, Greene has a high regard for him. One of the few.
“Ladies. Gentlemen. Lot to get through, so let’s keep the noise level down and turn this thing around pretty quickly. Couple of routine bulletin board items first and then we’ll get to the newsflash.’Kay?” Murmurs. “Good.”
Following hard behind the parking permits and mandatory refresher courses, Sergeant Hall allows some laughs at the expense of a dog cop “bitten by his own pooch,” and shoots through to the main event.
“I believe there may have been some advance publicity,” says Hall and a cop coughs “Menzies” into his hands, provoking smiles and more laughter.
“It’s not important where it came from. Fact is, the missing college girl, Ellie Staunton is the niece of Louis Wright. You all know, or should know who the esteemed Mr Wright is, as he is the most senior assistant to our current D.A.” More mutterings. It’s a murmur festival. This time, however, volume quickly rises as conjecture spreads around unimpeded.
“OK, let’s stop it there. Yes, we are under the microscope. Yes, there is pressure to get the girl found. We are expecting help from other precincts. If you are not on the homicide squad and your team can spare you, I need you to go through the appropriate channels. As of right now, this is a priority one missing person.”
Questions come from different corners.
“Is this case more important than the head hunter?” Hall is not a fan of the term. The Washington Post coined it. Now it’s grown legs.
“Does this kid take priority because of the D.A.’s office?”
“Look. Lets all get a handle on things and calm down.” Hall motions with his arm like he is setting the ground rules for a TV disagreement with teens.
“You know I am unable to give you any answers that have not been cleared for use. You know that leaks to the press can happen. You all also know that as of right now, this minute this kid is still alive, so far as we know. Unless someone found a way to bring the victims of the other guy back, then she has to be a priority.”
Hall breaks the roll call up and advises any questions to be directed to the Captain, via Menzies.
“What if Menzies is the Head Hunter?” shouts Greene.
Outside the sun has done a pretty convincing job of turning the interior into an oven. Jarvis hits the air con and Greene reaches for the binder.
“So, we’re on Head Hunter, after all,” says Jarvis, applying wrap around shades.
“Officially, we are on Head Hunter. Unofficially, they need us on the missin’ kid. We know now that all roads lead to Minter.”
“Come on, Greene. Don’t pull this crap on me. You know what the script is. We got our orders. Half of the cities uniforms have been assigned to her case.”
“Only as a P.R. exercise. How many of them are bustin’ ass and how many are writin’ traffic violations, tell me that?”
The pause lasts for half a minute. Greene takes it as an agreement. “Sometimes”, says Jarvis, “you being right can feel a lot like an ulcer.”
“You’re too young for an ulcer. Let’s go and ask some questions. I promise to let you do the short yardage smash mouth stuff.”
The car cuts through down town traffic as stop lights seem to fall into line and let them pass. Greene mumbles something unintelligible that Jarvis recognises to be a basic call for breakfast and pulls in outside a deli without a word changing hands. Moments later, he emerges, mirrored shades, head beaded with sweat, shirt sleeves already damp and his black cotton tie hanging lifeless, backing on to his shirt when the breeze blows just right.
Greene struggles into the passenger seat and talks about his shitty knees, passes a bagel to Jarvis. They eat efficiently, no talking. They are not damn women at a coffee shop, as Greene was fond of saying. Once the wheels are moving again the talk resumes and they are hitting stride for the day.
“So,” says Jarvis; “why you so hot for this Minter guy? What’s the story on him?”
“We pulled him in a couple of times goin’ back to before you landed on homicide. My old partner,” Jarvis jumps in; “Wark?”
“No, not Wark.”
“No. Not him.”
“No it wasn’t Clancy?”
“Shit, Jarvis. No. It wasn’t Jardine, either. What the hell’s the matter with you? It’s easier tellin’ the kids they can’t have any dough. Listen to the damn story. I swear on all things moral and proper, you got a problem with interruptin.’ Most things, we get by. This interruptin’ thing. It drives me nuts, I gotta tell you.”
“So who was it?”
“Who was who?”
“The partner, with Minter. Who was it?”
“I forgot. But that’s not the story, anways. One of my old partners. Might have been Clark or Gregson. I think it was Clark; Clark had a feelin’ for this Minter guy. We pulled him in twice in three months about a college girl gone missin’ on the night of her graduation. Weird bastard. I’ve seen some shit but this guy, it just didn’t add up. It was Clark, you know. Clark said we got to keep about as close an eye on this guy as possible. And he was right.”
“What was the outcome?”
“Well, we couldn’t hang him and what not but we did find him livin’ in a sewer and I still have a gut thing about him.”
“You can’t jail a man for a feeling in your bones.”
Greene and Jarvis both know all about those feelings. The aches that become jaws; gnawing at you within the dead air of a daydream.
“What I know, is this,” says Greene, throwing the binder to his feet. “This asshole Minter has the girl. I’m damn sure of it. I don’t even know how. Just feels like it. They found the hat and I know this guy is down the sewer.”
“That was a long time ago. Man can’t live in a sewer for years.”
“he ain’t gotta live there, he’s only gotta kill there.”
The morning passes in a lethargic age of turning circles, asking questions, showing photos of the co-ed and mug shots of possible targets. Blanks are drawn faster than busted flushes and Jarvis is starting to get tetchy with Greene’s shortening fuse.
“Look, Greene. You ever considered you could be wrong? About the sewer, I mean. Even bums move on.”
“All I got is my gut instinct and my memory. If I don’t go with them, might as well hang it up.”
“This partner of yours, President Clinton or whatever his damn fool name was; you think he’s barking up the same tree?”
“I’d swear to it.”
“Is this about catching the girl or competing with him?”
“Who gives a shit if it gets the same results?”
“Bad blood between you and Clark?”
“Not as such. He is a grade A, nailed to the tree son of a rodent suckin’ bitch. But as far as it goes; I got no grudge to speak of.”
Jarvis’ left eyebrow arcs so far that had he been wearing one of his Seventies fedoras, he would have hit the brim.
The radio throws static at them, farts, whizzes and coughs and then tells them that Detective Clark, homicide, has the girl and the perp and he found them climbing down a manhole before Minter could get to dancing down the sewer off Union Street.
The men say nothing.
They stare out of the wind shield.
Greene lifts the binder from the foot well and brings it down in a heavy crack against the dash. Then, because it feels good, he does it again.
“No point in killing yourself, Ed. The important thing is the bastard was caught.”
“I know that. You think I don’t know that? Will you trust me next time? Jesus. I can’t believe that asshole Clark…” his voice trails off. Finds a corner to sulk in. For such a huge man, Jarvis knows his partner can, on occasion, revert to small boy ways.
“We just got to beat him to the head cutter, is all.”
Greene retrieves the binder from the foot well, strokes a side beef hand across the cover tenderly. Opens it up and begins to go through the pages. Jarvis finds the Motown sounds on the dial and gets to singing all about it.
Three blocks down and a half a minute later of understanding between them, Greene mutes the music, even though he knows love really does hurt without you and plants his index finger onto a yellowed page.
“This guy, Gibson.”
“He live in a tree?”
“Who knows? But next time we gotta go down a sewer, up a tree or through a river, would you wear some spatz or something,’ all white is bad for business.”
Mark Porter is an ex-stand-up comic, rock drummer and probation officer. His first novel ‘Dogs Chase Cars’ is available through Drugstore Books in March. His Rifkin & Whelan Mersey Mojo series combines laugh out loud humour with extreme violence. The first instalment, Moscow Drive is out in November. He lists Joe R.Lansdale and Christopher Moore amongst his influences. www.markporter.weebly.com