Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapters 36 and 37



Chapter Thirty-six

Jordan met with Detective Dumburton outside Java World following his 6.a.m. to 1 p.m. shift. He was averse to the officer’s suggestion when first proposed, but now, sitting out on the plastic cafĂ© tables and chairs devouring his free lunch, J. took satisfaction at the general impression the rendezvous made when the boss cruised in for a little personal involvement with the clientele. Dumburton fit the bill completely. He was square-jawed, solidly built, and well dressed with shoes subjected to a military-style spit-shine. Jordan was rarely seen – scratch that – was never seen with such characters and he knew that in the twisted minds of certain community pillars his appearance with the cop would accrue to his credit. Of course, that was because none suspected him of being the Angel Without Mercy.

Dumburton was pulling no punches. “You see this?” he shoved the aforementioned police sketch in Jordan’s face. “You see this?’

Jordan nodded that, yes, he did see it.

“Well, waddaya think of it?”

“I think its purveyor should try his hand at a more conceptual kind of art. His skill at drawing renders little that is eye-pleasing or thought-provoking.”

“It’s not pleasing to the eye because it’s the sketch of a murderer, of the Angel Without Mercy,” Dumburton told him.

“Good for him,” said Jordan of the artist.

Dumburton was used to smart alecks. “Who does it remind you of?”

Jordan shrugged in an intimation of the fudged fact it reminded him of no one.

“It reminds you of you, ya son-of-a-bitch,” the detective could hardly contain his rage at Jordan’s coy routine. “I think it’s you and I’m going to nail your ass and good.”

Jordan informed the detective that his cooperation was merely a courtesy of sorts and that he would never have agreed to this questioning without a subpoena had he known Dumburton was going to be so rude. He quite understood, he continued, that the police sketch looked like something of a Latin take on himself, but was not confessing to any murders without mercy – a caveat his tormentor failed to pick up on.

“Alright,” Dumburton pulled the picture across the table toward himself, “I’m gonna do it by the book, but this is you and I’m going to prove it.”

“It’s not me,” said Jordan, “it’s a Latino guy.”

“It was dark and the orderly who described you is prejudiced against Mexicans,” the detective countered. “He thinks they’re takin’ all the jobs from the-” he stopped himself.

Jordan was sure Dumburton had intended to say “the blacks,” (or worse) because he knew precisely which orderly was spilling the beans and because it’s something blacks say. “The only crime worth committing,” he bum philosophized inside, “is the perfect crime,” which, of course, he would pass onto Randall when the opportunity presented itself. And that was because, he reasoned with the seasoning of a serial killer, “If you make one mistake, it will hang you.”

But wait! He had bigger fish to fry. “Takin’ all the jobs from who, officer?”

“I think you have an idea of which orderly identified you.”

This guy was good focusing on “which” like that. “Which didn’t turn shit on me,” Jordan snapped back, “because I didn’t commit any murder.” J. was surprised at the zest with which he found himself lying.

“Is ‘at right?” Dumburton flipped Jordan on his grill. “Well I got a little something on ya. You wanna know what it is?”

Jordan wagged his head in the negative. Dumburton could not have cared less.

“It’s smoke. Ya like to smoke dontcha?”

“On occasion.”

“Occasion my ass!” and then Dumburton pulled out a press clipping from the big city daily – the newspaper of record. “Looks to me like you fancy yourself one of this groupa nuts that calls ‘imselves The Sidewalk Smokers Club.” And there, in fact, was a rather lengthy article about the benefit/press conference under a significant looking headline that read: “Sidewalk Smokers Club Meets,” followed by the subhead, “Defense of Nude Models Tops Agenda.”

Someone had either a mordant wit or a keen understanding of how to sell papers. And there they all were: Joya, Yvonne, Clarisse, Jordan, the two ringleaders, and a jaunty supporting cast of associate-members-for-a-day on the sidewalk out in front of Joya’s Joyas, puffing away and making good use of a free and public space.

“It’s a social movement. It’s harmless.”

“I find it dangerous and I can prove it.”

“You like proving things don’t you?” said Jordan, vexed at the confirmation of his fear that the notoriety would bite him right in the ass. Retreating in spirit, if not tone, Jordan decided against throwing down unnecessary gauntlets even though the detective seemed decided as to the question of his quarry’s guilt.

“So what?” he followed-up, his discretion proving the better part of his valor.

“So there was the scent of smoke in the halls, a certain kind of smoke that a certain patient is willing to identify once I find out what it is you like to kill your lungs with.”

He played on. “Who, the gang guy across from me?”

“No. He won’t talk. The bangas never do.”

The banga’s generosity caused Jordan to shudder. He knew there was something noble in the gang mentality, the thing that bound them to one another through life and death and (still more) death, and he was now eternally grateful a criminal had been his roommate in adversity, rather than a trembling supplicant to the laws of stupid people. “I’m going to be honest with ya Dumburden-”

“It’s burTON. Don’t think I don’t know what you’re trying to do. I heard that stuff all the way through high school. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now.”

“High school, huh?”

If Jordan had missed pushing any buttons in the antagonism of this antagonist, they are likely to be unworthy of selection and comment. His wiseacre college boy routine – which was not so much a routine as a genuine essence – was something Dumburton was no less familiar with than inspectors Diaz and Thorpe. “The detective told Jordan as much. “Ya think I’m not familiar with your wiseayker routine?”

“I don’t care,” J. told him right back. “I didn’t kill anyone. I’m not Latino like this guy, and you’re not going to use the fact I’m a smoker to hang me. That’s a double hanging. It smelled like smoke in there because I needed a smoke and the only way was to have a little walk when the hospital was quiet.”

Here was a confession of sorts: that he’d been smoking and breaking the law at the same time. From there to murder was a hopscotch of faith in Dumburton’s mind, which fed on gristle only.

“A little walk,” the detective said and then was finished with him – for the moment.

He got up from his seat and told Jordan to “stick around town, don’t go anywhere.”

J. sort of frowned at the thought of his indebtedness to Joya, his crappy job and now this, the arrival of Dumburton into his life. Taken together they seemed an awesome kind of awful.

Chapter Thirty-seven

To say the inevitable end to Corey and Clarisse’s marriage was going smoother than a unanimous congressional resolution asserting that America is a great country, is to draw an almost perfect analogy (allowing for Randall’s prejudice against absolutes).

Never had two people so simultaneously lost fascination with one another. Even jealousy seemed out of the question. Much in jealousy involves passion and this little item was conspicuously absent where the pair was concerned.

Each was bewildered by the way the other had pretty much become, outside the relationship, what their mate had expected of them inside it. Corey was now possessed of an idea, driven to working late hours and, although the economics of the whole thing were far from being resolved, the stench of success began sticking to him like mildew to a wet wool gabardine.

We know Trixie Marie had affected the social climber in Clarisse, but failed to note how this had overwhelmed the wannabe mother completely. And Corey saw this happening, and saw that it was what made their separation so effortless. Each was on a completely distinctive set of rails traveling in directions away from the other.

When Corey was at Randall’s working the day through, Claire had overcome some inconsequential bickering to raise a makeshift-drafting studio in the living room.

And unlike lots of others who take this initial step with such gusto, she sat down and began to draft – a lot. When Corey headed home, Clarisse did waitressing at the restaurant where the boss was pleased as so much party punch with her new attitude.

She was chatty, light-footed, service-oriented, and hell-bent on making as much tip money as possible.

Which means it might have worked between them. He could have been the successful go-getter had Clarisse been Yvonne and infused him with some special purpose, if she had only imperiled herself and cried out for him to rescue her. Clarisse would have been able to stay home and have the kid. In her latest incarnation, Corey would have been relieved of the pressure to breed that had cost her so much energy in pressing, and he that much more in resisting.

And that is how things go. Clarisse could have been bothered by the fact Corey seemed to have at least a connection with Yvonne, but she was, actually, an artiste and too involved with what she was doing, now that she was doing it, to fuss over so minor a distraction as some feminine rival for a man she’d lost interest in.

And things were working out. The up-and-coming starlet whom Clarisse had been seen exchanging numbers with at the benefit/press conference turned out to be a real benefit as the art-patron-saint Clarisse had seen in her own enraptured dreams. Her name was Vindaloo Baxley which, like many theatrical names, suggests a lot and reveals naught. She was a very determined girl. A real Vinda lu-lu. One glance at Clarisse’s table (we’re back at the benefit/press conference) and her mind was made up. Of course, that piece had been Clarisse’s gift to Joya, but when Vindaloo was informed that it was not to be hers she made such outrageous offers of money that even Joya – with her keen eye for style – was willing to let Clarisse take it back. “I mean if it’s for Vindaloo Baxley...”

The deal, of course, could not be consummated without a promise from Clarisse to restore Joya’s loss with an equally sumptuous (and free) creation on a date soon thereafter. A conscientious businesswoman, Joya could see that by surrendering one piece of no actual value other than the cost of materials – givens in art – to the actress, the next piece would carry a price worth waiting for.

Just as Clarisse had fantasized, Vindaloo contracted her to fill sweeping swathes of her not inconsiderable tract of urban floorspace with original one-of-a-kind
furniture at a premium rate. She then went from party to party and shoot to shoot talking Clarisse up so as to increase the value of her own investment.

Just a few weeks after her devastating epiphany at Trixie Marie’s exhibition, the
French/Belgian girl had a name of her own. Now she need only prepare herself for the challenge of so much fine art being examined under so bright a critical light by folks of very fickle constitutions.

And this left her very little time for Corey who, as we have seen, had very little time for her.

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