Will Scranton narrates: Second Chance

"Shake-a-leg dweeb! Cops shagged Brian." Janes  voice is emphatic, and her  elegant fists are hammering at my door. It's thin and won't take much abuse. "Will, damn you, OPEN! NOW!  Must I  go through this myself?"


Five men ... no fewer, Jane has razored through in the four months I've known her. And now she's defeated by a quarter-inch of plywood?  "RIGHT", I shout! “All hands to the oars - pipe her aboard.” Hell - everybody inside knew. Salty and  Needles of-course, then me, or rather finally I had got  Brians cold shock. Janes ass shivers in the slightest  breeze and of anyone close she will demand penance.  Guilty and damned they be, for putting a chill on those dimples, but ...  but shagged?


Where did Jane find that word? I shiver. On screen,  bits of  my webzine flit by ...  it's  back-page filler for tomorrows edition. Tomorrows, or the next days ...  Mal-formed  bits are marked in orange and green so I can’t miss what's greedy for attention.  Find a bleeder they nag. I slug lukewarm, bitter coffee and rummage a last time for the box of   trinkets that had certainly not gone lost beneath the new LCD monitor.  It's bad luck, I think. My legs swing  away from the computer, and  stretch toward the door. Seems to be miles away, that door and drafty  while clamping me inside.


Outside,  through a narrow leaf pesterd off-side window white flake oceans whorl onto the balcony. It's  not quite narrow, engaging and private - - is, if you include the round-stone walkway below  and I should spend more time thinking in fresh air.  Now it's even clean. Snow  sifts between our aging Victorian  and  stiff concrete ramparts of the hospitals newest expansion. Next door. Grey walls loom steel and concrete and expensive and tall. Brian , a tall handsome gent worked on second floor -  a pharmacist. He said it felt like a concrete coffin. Or rectangular pyramid, as hospital cancer-bags were factored here and  between opium and cocaine,  half didn’t do them justice.  Couldn't sneak in so much as a Twinkie or out a box of chocolates without prying hospital eyes pawing it.  In the driveway lamps glow lamely  covered with white, icy caps.  


This storm will bury us, I think ... and reach for the door.

"Coffee," I say to the petulant models face looming over me? She has not stepped inside.


"If you're fast, have a clean cup and just brewed the pot. And remember mocha creamer."  


"Sure," I nod.


"Liar ...!" She brushes by, her long models fingers making a fan. "Like my new nail polish? It's called passion!"


Ten spear-points, that's what I see, each the scarlet color of  blood.


“Sugar, raw?”


“Last month,  that’s what a  photographer  said on my Moroccan shoot for ‘Le Vita’ sandals. I scratched his face to tatters!”  


She smiles at me and I try really hard to wink. Janey-girl  will drain every karma-point out of you, just to drink coffee, but it's worth three steps ... inside my apartment she slouches into a chrome-and-web lounger  I never use cause the LAN server never goes down thanks to a copper, northbridge heat-sink.  Fans whirr -  a blank LCD leers at her and she does not like it either and somebody beside Brian will need to pay.


"Your TV is turned off."


"TV? ... uhhh, only sleeping ..."


"Like you, huh ... God sakes look decent, Will. Put on a shirt - take off the sweats ... don't you ever change ...?"


'When I go outside,' I think, and do not say.  I still feel numb, or lost ... pointing all different ways, but even a frozen finger knows Jane may not be trifled - oh no - and if Jane will come inside I will not go out.  I have got another stained coffee mug - nothing is far away in my place - and sit on the couch too close to her long, models legs.  "I washed the sweats last month."


"Brian starched his collars ..."


"Jane, this is NOT puberty - not a first date. We cuddle under my down comforter; you moan like a lunch-whistle.” I cannot remember the last time. “We don't have to look good and do anything  difficult ... but watch."


Janey-girl pouted, reading my mind. “Kiss and tell won’t ring-a-ling my bell.” Brian I'm sure would have other ideas of what she found difficult. On this snowy Friday morning-before-Christmas none occur to Jane. She says. "How early does difficult need to be?"


"You just got up?"


"It's not a matter of time, dweeb!" she exclaims glancing over the pale gold Piaget gracing her ropey arm. I shake my head, agreeing time has been a tricky thing for Jane. "We need to be in there punching!"


I say. "Have you seen ... Brian ... since ...?"


"Since what! Time's it now - noon?  And damn,  Brian dropped dead right next to Cynthia. She was smoking one of my Virginia Slims and he ... he had a copper plate stuck in his back and it was only 10-AM!" Bits of  red and yellow light shine from Janes unpowdered nose. "Well, you DID know, didn't you?”


“You beside him, huh. Did he talk?”


“Would you, sucking a copper plate?  He was a patient man, Brian,  never one  to sob or complain. Only blood on his  starched collar betrayed him. That and the copper plate wedged into his head and neck and back. "


“Not deep then.” Miusol wool weave not cause and effect had been Janes strong suit. "Yes ... Yes, everybody knew. Brian ought to have waited till noon!” THAT would have got Janes  prepared attention ... But, young Brian's  got himself dead early. I think without clear images, shivering, fumbling with fresh death - death by copper and dead over spare change.


I knew that from Salty himself,  Salty the old sailor with no teeth in 401.  He's Philipino or Malaysian or Thai or some such mongrel and spent 30 years killing wogs with Unkil Sams Navy so prefers living beside white-guys though he doesn't much like us either. He  came banging on my door two hours  ago.


"OPEN UP, YER REVERENCE. OPEN YER FREEZIN' GODDAMNED DUR" Salty ... Salty was all bundled-up and ranting. It's been a cold  third week of  December, and I will not leave him sucking gums and wheezing in the hall. SLAM SLAM he slammed at the door. You wouldn't think old farts had such strong arms and I cracked the lock.  


“Spare my ears,  this ain’t the ships powder room and you’re no nine-incher! Salty what happened? Needles glue her knees together again?"


"Fuck-all pad're,"  he said barging through after I  slammed a java-mug into his twisted paw , "deaths got the watch  ...  Brians crossed over. Needles swears it."


She swears a lot, I thought,  wiping sleep from my face not really knowing what I heard ... first time, and certainly didn't believe it. I said. "Needles swears your parrot barks." I'm guessing Salty has caught her again, shooting up and beat her only to be tossed out to the hallways uncertain mercy.

"Dead yer fool," Salty snapped pounding down the hallway into my kitchen. "Bloody hands she had, from the gore ... won't fuck for a week now, the bitch." Needles - Saltys tramp girl-friend. She's a feral, 15-year old junkee on the lam who could teach dogs to bark.  I  know when alcohol saturated Salty finds shit around he slaps her till silly is no joke. So she admitted to me, and junkies don't lie, not about  the craving.


“Don’t you come harder afterwards, I had asked her?  “All the Czechzo mo’derne films say so.”


“What do you think,” she said cold and lynxy, flashing a black and blue tit? G*ds mercy. “He twists the gold nipple clip too, but Brian does better.”  Better Brian better carrot - - 19 I’d say. It’s hard as a worm infested sour cherry and  she is simpering. “Got a Jack Black?” Daring me to take a turn at 19 carrot;  gawd sakes look or not or wonder who bought it?  How does she think now of  death fresh as needle-tracks?


Salty bangs caffeine from my metal cup.  "She seen Brians  body slumped against the elevator. Third  floor. Gone hysteric, pad're,  she's gone wild  chugging  bottles of Robitussin. I told the bitch, damn bitch if'n yer gotta drink drive downtown and get some rum."



The mad dog fact was howling at me, and only foolishness came to mind ... "Needles have coffee with that 'tussin?"  I reconsidered. "Perhaps she could walk." Salty drives a  red-flake 1973 Caddy with bald tires and no brakes worth stepping on. "Now tell me again. Saw who - where - how?"  


"Brian yer fool. Dead." Saltys jaw had dropped open - his gums beating a tattoo. "Needles howling like a stripped gear. Coffee? Boiled  a fresh pot myself, but she'd got to that 3-rd plateau twice as fast as I ever got her ... " Salty pounds the table, wipes his grizzled chin and slurps greedily at my coffee. "Crap, what is this wet piss?"



"I ... I could only afford decafe .. the store brand EVERBLEND on sale."



"Brian wouldn't drink it, ya know that ... not the cheap stuff." Then he stared at the window like billowing snow might wash  it away ...  " it's a storm, ya know yer reverence ...  it's got lifes taste, and life blown down a good man. Dust-to-dust, pad're."



For his own reasons - I think none of them religious, but perhaps because so few women seem to visit - Salty has me pegged in the priesthood. I have been Pope and Cardinal and pad're for him  since he first saw the row of blade_servers lining one wall of my tiny apartment and murmuring like friars-at-prayer. It's nothing more than silicon, of-course, cleverly twisted up and painted, but that's dust-to-dust for Salty.



Cattle prods he may have use on prisoners, but of their modern electronic cousins he could plead innocence. More softly  allowing a mean chuckle to escape he said, "A man's a ship, and death rolls keel-over-mast ... hull to Davy Jones and soul to the devil. That's fer sure, but not the best Brian's ever been blown down ... know what I mean, pad're ...? hehehe."


No ... no I don't. Won’t say. Admit nothing. Nothing more of Saltys palaver made any sense. All I can think of is that yesterday, Brian had brought over two pounds of Kenyan coffee which I had not yet opened.  Run my scrapper-head  through magnetic code inside the hemp sack, but left it’s zipper closed. Now Jane hurries me, wondering if I knew ...


I  will not allow Jane to hurry me. We had decided that  weeks before, Brian and Salty and me.   We shared  ales at a smokey, back-corner table. Brian had shook samples from his Spanish leather tote. What's on the table is  private, as  dealers and groomers crawling the  dirty 1st-street bar will ignore you. Women, drugs, north-west militia and more women ... we have found them as common threads, and  Brian had laughed describing Jane's aversion to hurrying ... and Cynthias too.


"Buy 'em a stopwatch," Salty  hooted after buying drinks and damning Brian to wet raging ocean hell.

"But you KNOW what I mean, Will," Brian winked in his own sleepy way with a grey-checked Apple_Cap pulled down over one eye. "A true shopper, that girl,  even if  she's a mans last penny."  


"Janey-girl was the best."


"How does it move," I ask? "East-to-west ... along the Interstate?"


"Yes, East-to-West, but along the rivers. Fisherman, mostly ..."


"Younger's better yer twit! Lay out yer fathom-o-prick and waltz it up her azz! Yer still doing Cynthia?”


"Second best on her best night."


"Same with a drop-N-slop. MITM kills it every time.  Better a  local cell on both ends? But how would they distribute?"


"Well yes, that will be the trick, when the cargos get bigger.  Better to imagine one cell stretching. 'Course there's no head, so there's nothing to get lost."


"What are yer two blatherin' on about," demands Salty, huffing up and slamming one gnarled paw into the other. "Stretch a womans head yer find her arse!"  


"You're a duo-dick perv, old man," Brian puffs back ... and all three of us roar as men will not yet laid low by oceans or rivers or women.


"Then I'll loan one ter this bastard Scranton who can't find one puss 'N a litter." Shrug - I do, cause what do you know about a woman after one night? Despite offers - mine - it hadn't happened twice. Brian understood ale and Salty and coffee and women. I don't think Brian understood obscure death.


Those night bar sounds and careless ease, they still seem to roar at me, while Janey-girl ... she has been talking. "... and coppers ripped away everything, so there's nothing left to his apartment. I mean, I don't think I had anything there ..."


"Sure," I say casually  ...",  in plain view of the LCD that will not talk to Janey-girl, but scrawls a coded list of trinkets I ought to have ... a handshake from the coffee-sack code.


"What?  Are you listening, Will?"


"Oh yes, Jane."


"Then how many photographers were there?"


"Upstairs? Eighteen!"


"Liar," she says. "Had you listened, I said seven. You've never  SEEN eighteen photographers in the same place!"


I'm about to argue ... Yes, I'm a man of this world and seven photographers will do Brian no good, as eighteen could not during her best year rescue Jane. But that is her secret.  Jane watches my face, accusing ... I'm not paying attention. "You talked to Brian last night?" It pins her down, like the start of a really good fuck.


"I wouldn't say talked. He was rushing out." Janes  eyes flit, as they do calculating and  langorous models arms decide, have me by the  wool sleeve, tugging ...  it's an old sweater, really, not all that tough ... I think , how many men have ever resisted Janes tug? Would a man wait ... try trading up to a squeeze -- could he? "Now, dweeb," she says, "Brian was always the patient one. I mean, he took his time. So he shouldn't  be rushed out alone."


“Were you with him before the accident or did he rush in alone?”


“Rush?” The twist of Janey-girls full lips planted an acre of rye. “He might have gotten a quicky out of me, when I was tired.” A models life makes hard turns on slick pavement every turn of the head.  Was she naturally that feral or did the perfect body vis’ perfect ansatz  competition twist her so? Clothes flowed over her like a mountain stream caressing brook trout.   Her perfect cheeks and lips go mornful. “To think I used to like sex so much.” Janey-girl frightens grown men.  


Behind us my apartment door slams shut. End of the hallway a crowd has gathered. Jane hurries us and cares less. Cops jawing cop-talk, and two-dozen tenants line our foyer. Like its oak plank, they doze in overstuffed chairs or hunch against  an elevator door brass-trimmed and polished and meant for better, older times. Our  gabled Victorian houses nearly two-hundred of us ... people all meant for better times Brian would say ...  but  lounging and sleepy only two-dozen will see Brian leave.  We work all night, those watching, or not at all. I'm the exception. Brian too. What's it called ... The Long Sleep? Brian always said if Cynthia gave him a moments rest he'd get some sleep ....




But  not Cynthia. She  has slammed open doors cat-corner the elevator and stalked through the crush. Coppers and tenants and medics ... she has brushed them aside and now  beside us looks into and past and through me, but her attention is all for Jane.


"Will, Jane ... " she  shouts ... "Brian's such as mess!" She bats her blue-fringed eyelashes. "The good ones ... they dive out head first, don't they Janey-girl? Them that's unlucky  always go  head first and young." Her blue leather jeans and  ironed-straight hair match her eyes and threadbare tank top which like the rest does not supervise what it covers. She will scare an honest man. Wearing white she's a bitch -  blue is her peaceful color.


"Needles was dressed even worse yesterday," Jane smirks ruthlessly at Cynthia. "Boy was Salty jealous."


"But Needles wears a push-up. I've twice what she has," hectors Cynthia."Don't you think so, Will?  Sure ya do, and Salty's  three times as old and three times as jealous."

"Three, or four," I manage, agreeing.


So does a police Lieutenant  top of the stairs. He rolls over his police heels and watches them ... Cynthias  long, batting blue lashes. Fresh gold bars, say his erect posture ...  he could have said plenty, I think, and consider trying for an interview. Even on a Web-Zine, you lead with the bleed ... But the Lieutenant's  got teeth chewed into his thin lip that sez 'screw-you, Jackson' without an invite.  

It shuts me up and down  ... not Cynthia.  "Head-first," she giggles loud enough to give Brian a headache, "every time ...  that's what my body-building ex-boyfriend says, and he was never good a day in his life!"


"Brian was a good man," I say. We stand un-naturally casual, shoulder-to-shoulder as the gurney wheels by.


Jane tosses her swatch of brunette hair. "Jason, your ex  died last year, Cynthia. Get over it! He's not talking anymore gawd sakes what a loudmouth." Janes long legs stretch and her peerless face glances around mine -- following the body. "More police, and quite the mess, that one was.  Not

like Brian ..."


SLAM-SLAM ... Brians steel gurney bounces from the elevator. So like Brian, I think. A stealthy death for sure --   Brian a robust 42 , a heathly young man two hours before now  ... a nine-by-twelve inch copper roofing plate embedded in his back. That  had brought every Spokane copper with a lunch break to front desk of our  South-Hill Victorian. It's a murder, a who-done-it ... it's a promotion to the first clever flatfoot. They had shot pictures first, of Brian and the brass trimmed elevator and the Victorian foyer - which sanded and waxed , red-rugged  and oak-paneled had been the formal entry to a  gentlemans-hotel sixty years ago ....  


"Was not a mess."


"Was too, " snaps Jane, waving those scarlet spear points under Cynthias nose! "Blood is blood."


"Blood had nothing to do with it." Cynthias blue eyelashes flutter.  "Jason died of  steroid overdose."


"I thought some dude dropped  200-lb weights on his head."


"Only because Jason snarfed steroids ...  too many steroids, and beat out a  valley meth dealer for the Mr Spokane title."


"Which proves where Jason ought to have grown more muscle."


"Witch ...!"


Can this be how we see off Brian? The women puff at each-other - the copper looks anxious -  I step between ... "Well ... maybe ... Brian should have pumped his barbells a bit more."

"He was in shape when he wanted to be," snaps Cynthia. She had got over it, and I knew that proved something. Only last evening Brian said ...


CLANK-CLANK  it makes my head ring, the steel gurney  clanging and bouncing down three steps  onto the rug.  Ambulance workers  are rolling the body through our foyer. Jane smiles meanly and snaps. "Men don't last long with you."


Which did Cynthia no good. She gags ..."It's a bit late for that, girly ...." Janes mercy, I believe,  would gag a hangman. Even now some are watching. “Needles too gotta sit on an ice-block.” Cynthia threw back her long neck and penciled on lipstick.  “Brian knew where to come for a quality lay.”


"... and you, sir, what's your name?"


Name? Call me Ishmael ... I'm scrambling for the common, two jaws away from the Lieutenant whose  voice  broke in both sharp and inexperienced.


"Scranton. Will Scranton."


"Well Mr. Scranton, did you know the deceased Mr. Normal?"


"Gent on the third floor? Fell over dead?  Christ what a mess. Chatted over IRQ, a time or three, members of a coffee lovers club.   But no, not personal. Just moved in myself so I never really knew the man."


The Lieutenant turns quickly. "And you! Are you the woman  who found Brian Normals body?"


"Yes," say Janey-girl and Cynthia,  both, though only Cynthia smirks.


"Both," sez  the Lieutenant looking from one to the other ...  "Then you first," he motions to Janey-girl and spreads his flat feet.  


PING-SNAP our frosted glass front door slaps against the steel gurney ... the doors shudder, and  swing shut. Janey-girl and Cynthia hunch together. "Name and age and telephone number," snaps the Lieutenant. He's thinking this is his lucky day. Nausea kicks me in the gut. Bitter and slow. It's more, really, the innuendo than I can stomach. I catch the first open door.






I gasp as chill air pokes daggers into my lungs. Drifts cover my shoes ...  snow-flakes grab at the battered pack of Straights. Across 9th Street, the brick mansion hunches into South Hill stone ledges glowering like a remorseless, rejected lover. But it's fresh copper roof-tiles glow. Under them,  round the mansions east side, weeds and brush-piles grow tall. A FOR SALE sign had come down in November, and roofers had been hammering copper-plate ever since. I fumble for the cigarette ...  thinking outside ... outside is telling me I do not need to be outside. I should retreat to the computer and let the orange and red flying bits grind me into dust.


"Stay on the outside, Will - an honest man." Brians accusing voice. "It suits you ..."


Three buttons work on my trenchcoat. I snatch them together,  then step past the canopy. It's stretched green canvas and ice and snow-covered, and does not protect birds against April showers. Or Brian .... Or Zippos ... I suck  flame, and blow a long fat bilge of smoke toward the road whose sharp, right-angle bend beside the canopy sends cars to their death. That bend and Salty ...


"Got two there, Monsignor?"  Salty's  gumming a dead Camel butt and bent over a running water spigot. I hadn't heard him. One paw waves a  silver flask and the other an empty concrete head. Most statue heads are not made of concrete, and most that are are not empty. Salty has found the empty one.


"Not this one." I turn to watch. "Crashes yet?"


"Two orphans and a cripple hehe ... both Ford products --- I got pictures to prove it," Salty chuckles meanly. "No challenge, there, pad're,  but Beemer bitches'll be out  soon fer lunch."


"More your muffin, eh," I  grumble,"  shaking a cigarette toward him. He swills, pockets his flask, then gums the fag before flashing his own zippo from the pea-coats hidden pocket.  Salty's knife can flash from that pocket too ...  Pointing toward the spigot I say. "Cold work, and wet  for an old man."


"Wetter than yours, pad're."  He's got a stripe of slush running up the side of his bib and pea-coat, and a sour determined sweat-faced grin. An old man at work. His right paw grasps the maiden-head now slopping water. Minervas head, maybe ... her head filtched from the concrete entryway statue. Saltys feet  tap a jig,  filling the head with water from our flower-bed spigot below the canopy and slopping that water where the road-bend was most treacherous cross the pavement in an iridescent film of black-ice.  Slopping icy water onto an icy road ...  it wasn't something everybody would do ...


"You should use a plastic bucket."


His old mans skin stretches tight around ice-green eyes. "Yeah, and yer should use concrete rubbers."  


It's a grim thought. "Police say anything, I mean about you slopping water?  Ice, accident, death, insurance, felonious mischief? Must have,  when they passed  with Brians body ..."


"Mischief - - -  an ol’ fart like me?  But, yeah one azzwhole said 'it ain't holy water is it Chico?' Chico ---  you hear that pad're he's calling me a fucking wetback Crap! ...  SAVE AN ORPHAN  I said."


"They believed you?"


"I coulda pissed out there and called it anti-freeze."


"That flask full of rum?" He passes it over, a battered silver flagon old navy men might thieve from dead officers, and bolts of 150-proof fire roar down my throat. I gag down a second swallow ...  it clears my head.


He slaps away the flash from my hand into his own paw, sucks on the fag and spits. "Sure, the  copper fools believed me. Said to get a license and use more salt." Salty fit Minervas concrete head back to her peerless, concrete  body. "I said ya want salt eat beer nuts. Then one cop shoved me and I fell down. Prick!"


I shrug. "Take any pictures?"


"What yer Grace, yer think I' lying? I swear on the Virgins own whale, which saved me ship-wrecked off  Baffin Bay ... me and the mateys and two Bombay whores ... " He spits and his eyes run off  to warm places ... "Pictures, eh ... of my bust-up face. Pictures for your E-zine?"


"Page hits count. OLD MAN RAPED BY COPPERS  gives me a bleeding lead."


"Kiss yer own azz, Scranton," he hacks.


"While you kiss theirs?"


"Like hell -  next summer I'll wait for ther bastard with a bucket of olive oil!" His eyes slant and  narrow. "Like I said,  I shoot only the Ford product." Salty hesitates, and sucks on the Straight.


"Skidding Ford products ... and Brian."


A thought floats by ... how unlikely for  Brian to be caught-out ... fucking Needles by a shipwreck who might get a walrus tusk between her knees. I freeze,  a Dodo bird in brick rigging -  "You ... you saw Brian alive this morning!"


"Weren't no angel, yer Grace ... nosiree ... that come later."


"He was driving?"


"Yeah," Salty grins, "driving that pair a' leather Chippewas he straps on every morning.  Soaked in mink-oil not worth wet piss ta keep out the wet -- ask me --  and wool socks hang outa the top so he looks like a damned reservation squaw."


"Dressed for the weather, then ... nothing spontaneous?"


"Spontaneous? At 20-degrees,  yer want him ter wear jocky-straps?"


I edge closer to Salty. "What do you know ...?"


He retreats a half-step, one paw dropping to the pea-coat pocket where his knife lives. "Don't know crap-on-a-cracker ... if'n I did think I'd be pitchin' cold water on wet ice?"


"Yeah right, you're squealing to the coppers ... " I try without conviction.  Salty slugs from his pocket flask and spits. I say. "Musta been early, you got those pictures. Like the Fords, did Brian skid too?"


"Can't skid running uphill, Pad're."  Salty points cross-street to a cobblestone drive. It leads round a bare stiff-armed elm, leading up to the mansion.  Salty turns, grinning. "Brian was hoofing it,  and sure as waves float ya can't skid dragging a two-legged sand-bag with lipstick on her nose."


We slide across black-ice pavement. "You sure it was Cynthia?"


"No, yer Grace, every dame in this building got an azz like a powder-keg."


Salty flips a 6x8 photo from the pea-coat. It's Brian all right, Spanish leather tote and all. The picture caught him turning, chin over shoulder and looking up straight into the camera. Saltys picture fixed Brians frown ... and beside him a pair of mukluck covered legs that start at a  trimmed, split,  fox-fur parka. Fur and all,  you couldn't miss the powder keg. We nose up the cobblestone drive. "Cynthia ? Well maybe ...  you know her legs that well?"


"What are yer pad're, the village virgin?"


"Well no, but any woman looks good with the right clothes."


Salty spits.  Mansions brick walls loom above us. No light shines through a dozen windows, and  icicles hang  from  lodge balconies in menacing, twisted threads. They point down toward the  unwary visitor. Dark and cold and empty,  the mansion  grounds ooze feelings of ill-use. We are not improving the clientèle, I think, but over  wind-whipped  snow ours are the first tracks. Before a massive oak double door stapled fresh with a NO TRESSPASSING sign  we stand beating feet and staring up ...

"I don't doubt Cynthias many virtues ... but come on, I moved in what ... only four months ago..."


"Months? Ha!" Salty laughs. "Cynthia doesn't give new men 30-minutes and change for a

penny ... not if she thinks he's worth-a-damn."


"Didn't have penny-change  months ago."


"Got another fag, now?"


I fork one over. "Mansion looks empty."


"Owner spends Christmas in Jamaica. He's a sailor, yer know ... TaChing 54'. "


"That big, huh ...  didn't leave a caretaker?"


Salty paws his bald head gumming the cigarette. "He and the maid - he's the skipper, she blows on the sails."  


"Well then, we check back next month ..."


Salty lights the fag. "You and the rotted hull yer sailed in on."  


I'm standing alone looking up. Salty is trotting away through a ring of spruce whose  bare trunks go up twenty feet or more before sprouting bushy green.  On this hidden side a fireway winds up the brick.  Ladders too, hide here, laid across saw-horses and a bundled sheaf of bright copper roofing plates sharp as hatchets. I hurry to catch him. "Listen up, Salty, what in hell ...  you don't think Brian was murdered here, do you?  Murdered in the mansion? I mean it's impossible!  He sure couldn't walk with a copper plate in his back, and who could carry him cross the street, then up to our third floor elevator? No blood-trail either."


"Yep, yer a real crime-buster, pad're ... !"  Salty's kicking  at the base,  glances around, through the trees.


"Got an idea, then tell the copper," I exclaim!


"Copper's the problem, now isn't it," he sez and I can think of no response. "Can't see two-squats back here, can yer?"  He whistles, then fits two leather-gloved paws on the fire-escape, shakes it tumbling down ice and rust and dead leaves that a windless dry fall hadn't swept away. "Brian never left home without that Spaniard tote, now did he? Carried it faithful - like some men carry rubbers." The cigarette smoulders between bare gums, while he stares at  snow-crust, fresh and unblemished covering the iron steps.

"You'll break the damned thing, Salty ... damn ... and the NO TRESSPASSING sign says ..."


"Grab yer a hold hold here, yer reverence, on this piece-o-crap. I'm goin' up!"


His bandy legs reach three steps along the twisting, rusted rails before I get paws on metal. The fireway shakes and groans; it's last years dead tree felled and split and come back branches bare and haunting. I shout up. "Nuts! You've gone bananas. Want to kill your own worthless butt and mine too? Fresh snow on the railings and no tracks. Nobody came up this way. Not Brian, not ..."


"'Course they didn't," Salty shouts back. He's got to the second level. "Used a ladder! Both of 'em. Want the banana - better be a monkey! Coming ... or yer expect a postal-card?"


"But ... but why...!"


As Janey-girl will lecture, faulty style is never forgiven. She will care not one manicured fingernail if this piece of  corrupted, rotted iron crashes down cutting Salty and me to red ribbons. I'm clawing upward. Salty has reached the third level. Creaking screams of old wood comes from above, then Saltys head ...  then his pea-coat disappear  from the rails which vibrate metallic death-rattles while an avalanche of snow crust  splatters 'round.  "Why, monsignor? Every man to his own bird and his own crows nest I say."


“Very well for crows ...”  Off  this blasted shaking death-trap ... I squirm, and Salty pulls me through the window into a  hallway. It's  narrow and dark and empty, oak-lined, smelling of  old wax and new carpet.  To the left,  a double window dead-ends with a view down onto  our hopeless green canopy. “Ambush!”


Salty is peering out. "Gandershit. Let's a man view what's coming, as well as what's behind."


"How's that Salty? If I put one eye thru each window then your black ice looks like a bow-toe for the canopy. What you might bury it in."  Tracks of the steel gurney - Brians steel gurney lead through dirty snow and out of sight. His bow-tie ... it turns my stomach ... snow leeches down my neck. "What's coming?"


"A funeral, yer Grace, or nothing."


"And just who ..."


"We're about to see, now aren't we ..." He's twisting  round, toward the other side, where  hallway carpet runs away toward stairs. A door has been cracked open. Pale yellow light seeps through ...  yellow light and music. Reggae . As Brian played constantly. It's not possible ... I see Brian behind that door tapping away -  a keyboard propped awkwardly on a brick while on a CD Bob Marley wails ... Salty paws at the glass knob and swings it open.


"Oh," she says, like the room got surprised, but not by us.


I sniff for scents of unused, musky space - the room is fresh as yellow buttercups. Crushed  velour pillows lay about. On one, Janey-girl sits  weaving  her long models body to  music ... Brians music and splashing  brunette hair that Brian never made hurry.  Her eyes barely glance up. "Damn, Dweeb. About time you got here."


"Where's the Lieutenant?"


"With Cynthia."


"Oh. What are you doing?"


"Drying nail polish. I've broken two already."


"But ... but Cynthia wore blue."


"She got red nail-polish on her white jeans. Yuk! What was she supposed to do? Anyhow, Brian encrypted the files."


I peer over Janes peerless shoulder. It's a mess all right. "Why do you suppose he did that?"


"Loose lips sink ships," she says thoughtfully and  stretches back on a pillow. "Which of these do you suppose are orders. The ones with squares or spades?"


"It's not like that, Jane ... the display is machine code ..."


"What machine ... oh never mind I can hear you start babbling ... but, thanks for the advice," she says, rolling her eyes upward.  "Damn, do I have to go through this mystery myself?"


"I'll check the files later."


"Not the files, silly. The box!"


Sink, blow down, roll over ... " Mystery? You mean Brian expected company."


"Not mine, that's for sure," pouts Jane.


"Well now, Brian is ... was the sporting sort.  Got the box, does she, and likes keeping it?"


"Not around here, Dweeb." Janes hair flips toward a corner table. which is held down by an empty coffee mug, and a half-drained bottle of Robitussin. "At least Cynthia put the cap back on."  


I blurt, "Cynthia would never put the cap ... on ..."


"You dog!" Janey-girl has leapt up from the yellow velour pillow and is pointing a long, graceful, red-tipped  models finger into my nose. "You and Cynthia? So THAT's where she's been spending time. Silly me. Her going downstairs at all hours ... I thought she was finally beginning to separate laundry."


"It seemed at first like a good idea."


"A womans jealosy will smash any mans mercy." Jane shakes her head naughtily. "There's no hope, but if you two are going to start something romantic, I need to tell you about ... " Janes eyes harden, and little crinkles form just above her chin. "But if not Cynthia, then who could...?"


I turn. "Salty, what if ..." Our room has become silently empty. Cold too - it's cold and empty as a cavern some North-West mountain hermit made home till Microsoft hired him to code-up a firewall. We all build firewalls ... some stop us from getting out, I think. Never happened to Salty, though. Who could...? What if ...? Some people live by abstractions; some not. Door slams behind ... I'm running, now imaging Saltys mercy ... dashing back down the hallway toward the two broad third-story windows that give out  on the black iced road, the 90-degree turn in front of our Victorian that will murder young children and orphans and does not know of   G*ds mercy. Salty's got half-way down before I catch him. Didn't need to, really ... he's got so far and stands against the wall, flat-backed .. an  old ugly, brown crane,  fishing , one bent finger poised above the buttons of his cellphone. It looks like a blunt, black knife.


"Punch her up, Salty, " I say, "who needs a shipwreck?"


"I ain't the Virgin, yer Reverence."


"She's just a girl."


I believe that excuses something, but Salty ... he's  moving again, has got to the hallway dead-end and swung open one of those windows. It's cold, what seeps in.  And through the open window comes flailing an engines mad whine and the screech of tires. Then a flash of  long red,  from a car body that does not want to spin. Too fast, it's slipped out from our Victorians parking lot , and  playing  reckless for a 90-degree angle.  A delicate foot might hold it, but ‘tussin shots make their own  driving rules. Bare brake-pads screech against worn drums; tires spit and whine   on black ice spinning. And I do not watch crumpled car metal explode in flames, but Salty is doing a jig.