Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapter 34

Chapter Thirty-four

Jordan was upset about Clarisse’s having stiffed him, but soothed by his cigarette and the understanding that the lady was in something of a confusion.That he understood women to be confused most of the time did not deprive her of his empathy.

She was having trouble, walking about like a coyote that has chewed its leg free of a steel-clamp trap. And J. decided that so long as she wasn’t rabid he wasn’t averse to absorbing a little abuse on her behalf.

He sat at the table in his apartment and admired the neighbor’s garden for a second. He plugged in some piano-driven jazz that for him was classical music just like any symphony produced by some 19th century German master. And besides, jazz was growing old.

Anyway with the music and some nicotine his spirits rose, just a tick or two above the depression into which recent events had driven him.

He followed the piano notes up and down the keyboard, absorbing the 18-wheel highway rumble of the bass notes and licking his lips with treble, shivering a bit at the suspension, at the open question mark of the endings. It was enough to make one smoke and he decided to fire up another, this time touched with a pinch of marijuana. It was a mixture he’d picked up on one of his many two-week jaunts to Europe (there had never been time for more). Tokin’ buddies of his past would have deemed it sacrilege and Jordan wouldn’t have given a hoot. He wouldn’t have wasted his time explaining the memories of gray cobblestones and late-night streets echoing with the joy of people sharing life’s easy pickings together. He refused to sound like an idiot, like some poor man’s Kipling. He knew from youthful attempts to convey the sense of his adventures that people (for the most part) don’t give a shit about where you’ve been and care even less about what you learned while you were there.

The phone rang. The cardboard filter he’d fashioned and the leafy mixture of green and rust brown slid from the joint he was patiently and peacefully fashioning. We know by when the phone rings for us why it does so and, because of these first two clues, also who’s calling. Without these clues, odd hybrids of fear and expectation will seize all but the hardiest, or stupidest among us. Jordan hadn’t entered any contests of late nor was he waiting for good news from anyone at all. He shuddered and slowly lifted the receiver.


“You Jordan?”

“Yes,” he admitted fatalistically.

“My name’s Dumburton. I’m a detective.”

During the ensuing series of questions and revelations Dumburton sounded just the way his name did. J. wondered what it was about cops that they seemed to naturally fit into the few, narrow stereotypes of overly serious, sunglass-wearing, donut-chomping, mustachioed fascists they were made out to be in films both friendly or unflattering in their portrayal. “It’s the uniform,” he mumbled to himself as Dumburton tried to squeeze a date for a meeting and a few questions.

“What’s that?” the detective verily growled.

“Um, nothing Dumb-burden.”

“BurTON. Officer. What about Thursday?”

Thursday was the day after the day upon which this was all transpiring and Jordan had affixed it in his mind with the loyalty befitting a founding member of The Sidewalk Smokers Club. It was the day of the press conference/benefit at Joya’s on behalf of Yvonne’s sexy naked girls and he had no intention of missing it.

He knew the average policeman’s aversion to reporters had much to do with the fact they were often up to no good and didn’t want to find their illicit deeds in print.

And so he mentioned it.

“Um, looks like I’m busy,” Jordan said and went on to explain how he had a press conference to attend.

“Press conference!” Dumburton hissed predictably and cut himself off from asking what kind of press conference, for there was no such thing as a good one. Free speech rights were a pain in the ass and public relations worse. Police work – the collaring of monsters like the Angel Without Mercy – more often than not required a skirting of the law and such transgressions were (or had been at one time) to a journalist what blood is to a Balkans mercenary. So the detective passed and cornered Jordan into meeting him a day after the press conference because what a cop wants, a cop gets, at least until the lawyers arrive.

“Can I ask what this is about?” Jordan asked politely enough.

“You heard a tha Angel Without Mercy case?”

“No,” Jordan lied, seeking to grab every advantage for himself in throwing this bloodhound off his scent. It was the first of many such ruses to come.

“You been livin’ on the moon?” Dumburton curtly queried.

“Yeah,” said Jordan, thereby eliminating whatever edge had been gained by his denial, effectively placing himself in the category of “uncooperative suspect,” (read: punk) according to the detective’s standards.

“You stayed at county hospital on such and such dates?” Dumburton persisted.

“Maybe, maybe not,” Jordan fenced.

“Friday, 2 p.m. at the station house, mister. You jes’ be there.”

Jordan just about shit his pants. He decided to pass on his tobacco/weed confection.

He was not given to long bouts of paranoia immediately following his indulgences, just short ones that his strength of character and sense of security beat back in avoidance of the darker considerations. But he was not ready for even a short spell following the unannounced grilling he’d just undergone. His adrenal glands were, once again, pumping at a furious pace and Jordan didn’t need to be any faster or higher or anything other than what he was in that moment.

The phone rang again. Jordan was calm. Even with the luck he’d been having, two treacherous phone calls seemed unlikely. After all, he’d only murdered once.

It was Corey who, after a few tepid attempts at casual conversation, clumsily, but mercifully arrived at a reason for the inconvenience. “How much do you know about that girl Joya?”

“Why do you ask?” Jordan responded wearily, up to his eyeballs with interrogatories for the evening.

“You seem to hang out with her more than the rest of us.” By “us” he meant the ever-tightening class of sidewalk smokers.

“Yeah, so?”

“She a dyke?”

“Yeah, why?”

“I thought so. They just looked odd together, the two of ‘em and then Joya said something about a lesbian city councilwoman showing up and…”

“Cleared up for ya, huh?”

“About Joya, yeah. I was pretty sure, but what about Yvonne?”

Having his mind occupied with a lot of weighty matters, Jordan was slow to notice how both halves of the same troubled couple had been in contact with him the same day and when he did, it was enough for some conclusions of his own.

“You got the hots for Yvonne?”

“I didn’t say that. Why does everybody say that?”

“Who’s everybody?”

“Never mind. Gotta go,” and with that, Corey hung up.

On second thought, Jordan returned to the construction of his half-tobacco, half-marijuana joint, which he coupled with a repeat of the musky backstreets jazz he’d begun what had started out as such a pleasant evening with, and got lilted like the open question mark in a compositional ending.

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