Tuesday, November 01, 2005
The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapter 46 and 47
Jordan, of course, was missing from this tectonic occurrence in the goings-on of his cohorts, for when one has profound personal problems the ability for public interaction becomes limited.
And this was precisely Jordan’s predicament. Due to a redundant sense of worry, he’d been staying in, avoiding the white glare that seemingly followed The Smokers everywhere now, making preparations to meet the dark clouds gathering just off his horizon.
But to no avail really, for the morning after Chapter Forty-five had taken place, while Jordan enjoyed his first coffee and cigarette, Dumburton dropped by with a piece of paper requiring that Jordan follow him down to the police station for questioning.
J. was in pajamas, bathrobe and slippers and so he asked Dumburton for a minute to dress. The detective said sure and proceeded to step into Jordan’s space when the door was slammed in his face.
“What are ya doing?” the detective snarled through the cheap slab of wood separating them.
“Getting dressed man,” Jordan snarled back, “Your paper doesn’t say ya get to come into my bedroom, too.”
This was not spontaneous, but by design. J. had engaged in some research and preparation for what he now felt to be an inevitable confrontation with the gargoyles of public order. This prep consisted exclusively of delving through his local entertainment outlet’s collection of film noir classics and a similar raiding of the local bookstore for the works of Mickey Spillane, Dashiel Hammett, and Jordan’s favorite, Ray Chandler.
In this search for an edge he’d decided upon a technique, whereby he battled, parried, dodged, and slipped his tormentors; creating every step of the way, brick by brick, a case for whatever lawyer would be stuck with the job of defending Jordan from charges that were, in fact, true.
What he harvested were thirty or forty hours of delightful entertainment (and suspense) capped-off by a collection of wiseacre lines, some borrowed and some original, the latter coming to Jordan as he slowly became imbued with the spirit of the mid-century gumshoe.
And so, he met Dumburton outside his place in a tuxedo.
Those who are pulling for Jordan, and wondering how it was he chose what would appear to be a not-very-helpful strategy for breaking clear of the law’s claws, must admit that he’s taking things like a man and having a good time during what may be his last hours of freedom.
It was an attitude pumped from the bum philosophy’s bowels, a rebel-may-care stance that otherwise cooperative people are forced to affect when the fact they smoke pushes them out and away (which is somewhat the point of this story).
Dumburton, cold and worldly as he was, did a well-pronounced double-take to the pure satisfaction of the murderer.
It was in this moment the idea truly impressed itself upon Jordan. He was a murderer. Laws and lore held it to be so. The realization transformed him further than his black-and-white mug repertoire. He was no longer, and could never again be, a regular guy. He was something distinct, had done something of note.
“Asshole,” Dumburton responded in a way that was becoming customary to Jordan and therefore less intimidating than at first. “You don’t have any respect for the law or the system.”
“I’m dressed formally,” Jordan pointed out. “How much more respect you want?”
Dumburton drove a muscular car that was ostensibly unmarked save for the fact only non-uniform cops drove gas-guzzling behemoths built prior to the first energy crisis.
The detective got in on the driver’s side while Jordan stationed himself, hands on hips, at the opposite rear door. “What are you doing?” Dumburton sounded frustrated.
“Ain’t you gonna ‘cuff me?”
“No, I’m not gonna ‘cuff you. What are you gonna do to me?”
“You’re accusing me of murder, ain’t ya?”
“An old lady.”
“If I were you I’d put the ‘cuffs on.”
“You’re not me, but if it makes you happy…” Dumburton spit, slammed the door and stomped around the rear end of the car and gruffly ‘cuffed J.
He then stuck his hand on the top of Jordan’s head in the way people of his ilk do and pushed the suspect down into the back seat.
“Christ!” He shook his paw and made the facial expression of some frivolous girl who’s just seen a spider. “What the hell’s in your hair?”
“I don’t share beauty secrets,” Jordan told the buzz-cut detective.
“You have enough in there to last an eternity,” Dumburton barked while making his way back around to the driver’s side so that Jordan might hear him.
“Ya never know when a little grease might come in handy down at the big house,” Jordan nonchalanted him.
Dumburton looked in the rearview mirror. His eyes locked onto J.’s whose own locked onto the detective’s, just like he’d seen in the movies. “You’re drivin’ me fucking nuts!” the lawman acceded before getting back out of the car, walking back around the trunk end, opening Jordan’s door, grabbing his hair, losing grip from the grease as he tried to pull him back out of the vehicle. “Aggh.” And he looked for a place to rub his hand dry. “Get outta the car!”
Jordan casually obeyed, fully understanding the ebb and flow of his relationship with this man who’d crashed into his life some weeks before with neither invitation nor departure date.
Dumburton took the handcuffs off. “Get in the front, the games are over.”
Jordan got in understanding full well that the games were over when he decided they were.
Early in their little road trip, Dumburton’s car was passed on the right by an eye-catching woman in the passenger seat of a racy convertible handled by a gentleman neither he or Jordan bothered to look at.
“In this world,” Dumburton turned to a surprised Jordan, “there are a lot of whores.”
It was a crude observation and certainly not novel, but underneath it Jordan detected a strain of humanity, something which he had suspected of Dumburton from the first.
They rolled through neighborhoods of decreasing realty value for a few minutes more when Dumburton turned again to Jordan and said, “I just want you to know that I don’t think what you did was morally wrong. I am, you know, enforcing the laws, not makin’ ‘em.”
“Nice try. Mind if I smoke?”
We are placed on this earth to deal with one another. Argue to the contrary all you want, we are forging ahead. Those who accept this fact have a much better time of it and are able to penetrate situations otherwise impermeable. Jordan accepted it and therefore understood that Dumburton’s job – in its basest incarnation – was to round up murderers. But he also knew it to be a means toward many ends: earn money; make a wife happy; climb the career ladder, and garner positive press for a perpetually beleaguered police department. So, to a reasonable degree, Dumburton actually needed Jordan. “Doctor needs sick people, cop needs criminals,” he thought and promised to pass this along to Randall when the opportunity presented itself.
And to the extent the democracy rattles along with a few rights and guarantees still hanging to its twisted chassis, the situation required a modicum of cooperation on the suspect’s part or the whole thing would get nasty and defeat the purpose of neatly bringing to justice the murderer of an old woman.
The cigarette was sprinkled lightly with marijuana. Almost all of Jordan’s cigarettes had been pre-rolled in this way of late. He had a lot on his mind and it helped him relax. Pure and simple. That Dumburton was coming to take him away had not crossed Jordan’s mind two nights earlier when he had rolled ten or twelve to help navigate the next few days.
The detective, whose job provided ample exposure to all the worldly vices, only needed a whiff to determine something wasn’t right. “You smokin’ weed?”
“What’re you gonna do? Arrest me?”
Dumburton looked at his captive for the first time with something that approximated grudging admiration. He asked Jordan if he had a smoke without the weed and, in a moment of softness towards the hard bastard, J. provided him a pre-rolled. Dumburton smoked a little, coughed, and put it out.
“Real tough guy,” Jordan mumbled.
They arrived at the station and Dumburton told his prize to sit for a second while he went to do something or other, which he then proceeded to do.
Jordan looked like, and was, a fish out of water. For the enterprise that is American criminal justice runs on the fuel of minorities and hard-luck losers bitter at buying into a dream not their own. His status as killer notwithstanding, Jordan looked too white, too polished, too coherent, and too harmless to have much of anything to do with the miserable souls present and waiting for their legal skewering.
It was, really, very much like his night in the emergency room in county hospital, which when he thought it twice over, was how he became associated with this whole other class of countrymen in the first place. For if Jordan had not gotten sick without health insurance he would never have been forced to take treatment with people other than his own. And he certainly would not have been wandering around a hellhole of the misbegotten at three a.m. or whatever time it was he got it into his head to do a mercy killing.
Anyhow it didn’t matter because there he was sitting in a tuxedo. Once again J. monitored the poor speaking skills of the suspects, the faux bravado that only served to dig their holes a little deeper, the inability to connect at any level with their keepers, and the complete lack of development that stood at the root of their present trouble.
Dumburton came back seemingly glad to see Jordan who was a class act where criminals were concerned; a less bumpy ride yet more challenging. And the public nature of the case in which J. was about to be named suspect meant grand things for the detective.
Suffice it to say Jordan’s sentiments were not made of the same stuff.
“Alright, I’m gonna put you in a room for questioning, just like on television.
We’re waiting for somebody from the city attorney’s office to get here and then we’ll do the interrogation.”
“You tryin’ to get me excited?”
“No, I’m trying to scare you.”
Jordan contemplated spitting to mark his disdain, but his sense of cleanliness got the better of him, which is why he was a cop like Dumburton’s favorite kind of suspect.
The detective locked him in a new room, which was, as promised, just like the kind seen on television cop dramas. In front of him there was a long glass panel that Jordan pegged for one of those one-way viewing things whereby enforcers of the law could see him, but through which he could not return the favor. Then he waited and waited, which is a part of the game. He’d have smoked another cigarette/joint, but a cute lady in uniform with a giant gun and her hair in a bun had divested Jordan of his particulars.
He waited and waited some more. An hour went by. Another half an hour went by; at least so it seemed. Jordan had to avoid his favorite pastime, sexual fantasy, for lack of a place to let off steam should his imagination prove particularly fertile.
Finally Dumburton returned, crestfallen. Jordan could see it and this was because he was becoming familiar with the professional part of the officer’s personality; beyond which he did not suspect there to be much else.
“Okay, you’re free,” he practically whimpered and threw a folded newspaper at him. Jordan unfolded it. He saw pictures of his friends in a scuffle with what looked like the guys who’d shown up to make such a mess of the benefit/press conference.
And then another with City Attorney in very proximate environs to where all of this happened, which, if he wasn’t mistaken, was the Argentine restaurant.
“The city attorney’s been photographed at a restaurant with The Sidewalk Smokers Club. The whole office is in a war room mentality. Can’t get a deputy city attorney down here to help me with you.”
“And so who, I ask, is there to defend the sanctity of our system?”
“Alright, get outta here,” Dumburton recuperated form and growled, “but don’t think this is the last of it because it’s not.”
And that was probably true. Jordan thought about a come-backer, but survival instincts took hold and he chose to depart the station house lest somebody change their mind. As things were going, he did not find it at all odd that the lady with gun and bun would return his pre-rolleds with his wallet and keys and a comely wink.
It was not every day the station played host to a tuxedo guest.
Bereft of mobile communications capacity on principle, Jordan now found himself paying the price for that principle as he stood stuck in a neighborhood that left a little to be desired. He reflected upon how it is the nature of police stations to be in lousy neighborhoods, “more customers, in a manner of speaking.”
He pulled out a plastic calling card that had been in his wallet since the New Deal. J. never used it and, given the transforming bias of telecommunications, was not even sure the company that had issued it existed anymore. He had wisely attached a little clipping of paper explaining just how the device was to be employed. He went to punch the numbers in on the payphone and it was then Jordan noticed that it had been torched and smashed into uselessness. So he moved on, approaching broken payphones in his tuxedo until on a fourth try, next to a liquor store fortified with more bars than the jailhouse itself, he found an operable one.
Slowly the odd ritual performed between himself, the recorded voice of a woman who seemed to be in the employ of telephony companies the world over, and an interminable number of digits, yielded a dial-tone.
He thought it better not to importune poor Joya yet again. So he dialed Corey’s number, which landed him Clarisse’s voice.
It wasn’t the clearest connection in the world. “Who eet is?” she chirped and he answered that eet was Jordan and then explained how he was actually trying to reach Corey. “Oh. Well he doesn’t stay so much at dee apartment anymore and I have all de mess-ahge come to my phone.” There was a pause since J. could not really understand what it was she had said. “So what jou are doing?”
“I’m down at the police station. I’ve had a little trouble, but they let me out. I need somebody to come and get me.” There was another pause followed by some gurgling voices. Clarisse, he was sure, had covered the phone with her hand in order to explain his situation to whom he was not quite sure. Surprisingly, a squeal of delight wove its way through her knuckles and bounced off a satellite into his ear.
“Okay,” she said, “ we are coming down to get you.” And with that she hung up not having permitted Jordan to tell her exactly which station he was at.
No matter, a few panhandlers and violent threats later, a red convertible GTO roared down the street to the delight of street punks, drunks, and law enforcement types alike. As the car pulled up, it became clear the driver was that starlet from the benefit/press conference. He did not recognize her from the show for which she was known, but her glasses and floppy hat and other accessories that Clarisse had taken to mimicking gave the thing away.
It made quite the picture and the ladies’ incongruity to the surrounding neighborhood affected them not at all. And why should it have? All available gods were obviously keeping an eye out for the do-ette. And why shouldn’t they? Everybody else within eyeshot was, too.
Jordan, whose recent circumstances had sharpened his capacity for reflection, began reflecting anew as he sat his tuxedo-self in the back seat behind the two beauties, lit a tobacco/marijuana smoke, and settled in. He thought that, when the strings of control that keep a normal life normal are cut, for whatever reason, a person’s range of experience, ie; the depths to which they can sink and the heights to which they might soar, is given to greater oscillations. At least that was how his day, which had started with captivity and had morphed straight into any blade’s definition of fun, had run.
The actress looked back at him and smiled widely and whitely. Clarisse introduced her formally as Vindaloo Baxley whom he’d heard of. Clarisse introduced him as Jordan and he gave thanks Baxley had not yet heard of him given Dumburton’s efforts to make his name a household brand.
Although he could not quite connect Baxley’s face to her work, the name was one of those attached of late to must-know things and people. She was cute, no check that, she was really hotly scrumptious and the fact Jordan had too much on his mind to really concentrate very well on her lit Baxley’s fire of attraction for him: proof positive there is nothing more enticing to a woman than a man with large enough a life to inoculate himself from the universal effects of beauty. He carelessly asked her if Vindaloo Baxley was truly her name and she said, “Of course not!” while mistaking his distraction for the lack of respect she inwardly felt deserving of, but could not have thanks to her rank, station, and upturned nose.
J. had learned of late not to ask where things were leading. There was no longer any scheme or order to his life and, by egocentric extension, the universe in general.
The exercise of worrying about immediate details had dropped from his repertoire. He was suspected of murder no matter where he was and as long as that had not been confirmed in a court of law, every day was Christmas Day, every night New Year’s Eve.
When the GTO stopped at a light Vindaloo got a whiff of what Jordan was working in the back. “Are you getting high?” she trilled with a joy-element in her voice that was contagious as malaria in the Spanish-American War.
“Yeah,” Jordan answered in a way he might have were she Officer Dumburton. His demeanor had changed. The tough-guy, gumshoe rehearsals had only served to varnish a nature already deformed by the rock of Sisyphus he’d been pushing these many pages.
His gruffness caused Vindaloo to cast a sidelong glance at Clarisse who read it as, “God he’s cute.”
It would be helpful, at this point, to remember that when Clarisse hit her now dissipated crisis, it was Jordan, rather than her fading husband, whom she had turned to for solace. With the approval of her patron stamped all over his dour countenance, Clarisse’s tepid interest in Jordan was rekindled.
“So,” the actress looked over her shoulder with complete disregard for the unfolding traffic situation ahead, “do you mind if I ask what you got picked up for?”
“Yes,” Jordan yelled into the wind, “I do.”
“Great,” said Vindaloo, “so what were you picked up for?”
This made Jordan smile and he was tempted, as he had not been for quite some time, to regale her with the truth. “Smoking,” he uttered, keeping on message and demonstrating a discipline that would increasingly serve him in trials to come.
“Oh, you Sidewalk Smokers are the most!” she cheered. “It’s a veritable revolution.
Like you were everywhere pressing the advantage. I have to ask: Was it all planned?”
Jordan would have liked to answer that, yes, it was, but he wanted to know what had happened the prior night at the Argentine restaurant. And so, with the heightened ability to shift perspectives, compose alibis, avoid answers, and respond to questions with questions he’d developed in his dealings with Dumburton, J. directed things in a direction more pleasing.
“No, it’s more a spontaneous uprising of oppressed habitues citywide.”
She squealed with the childlike delight of those lucky enough to spend their life bathing beneath the golden sun of good fortune. It was all so much fun for her, so much spectacle.
“So Clarisse,” he probed, “what happened last night at the Argentine place?”
“Well, de things got out of hand from all de smoke.”
“Yeah, the newspaper told me as much. Got anything else? Like, say, how the city attorney ended up embroiled in the affair?”
“Shee’s hafing an affair with that city man.”
“Joya. Who else?”
“I thought Joya was a lesbian,” he labored through the interrogation.
“Yeah,” said Clarisse in so useless a manner for the purposes of information gathering that Jordan threw his hands up, resigned to waiting for a more specific accounting from Randall himself.
Whatever had happened, it was clearly to his benefit and Jordan leaned back in the hope this was a sign his fortunes had finally taken a turn for the better.
Stopped at another light, Vindaloo Baxley turned to Clarisse and said in a barely audible voice, “Should we share him?”
And Jordan smiled as a feeling of warmth that began somewhere in his solar plexus, moved convincingly through his chest, up his neck, and into his head where it exploded in a starburst the likes of which he had never known before.
He shivered, but not from the cold.
Randall and Corey drove the latter’s SUV toward a different police station where Yvonne was waiting to be bailed out after an evening in the cooler.
“You’ve been coughing a lot,” Corey said as Randall sucked and chewed on a treacle-gooey Sir Edward cigarillo without much gusto at all.
“I know... I hung out smoking with Hat Midone after the ruckus last night,” Randall confided.
“Hat Midone the actor?”
“No, Hat Midone the bus driver.”
Corey wondered aloud why it was that everyone but him was getting an actor out of all the hubbub. “Who else got an actor?” Randall wanted to know.
“Clarisse has hooked up, profitably I might add, with Vindaloo Baxley, the actress.”
Randall was secretly disappointed he didn’t get the actress and Clarisse the actor, but instead said, “We’ve got a better actress. An actress on the largest stage of all – reality.”
Corey nodded. “For my money she’s the true ‘it’ girl right now.”
This line of discussion resulted in a rare moment of quiet between them. Corey felt close to Yvonne and was worried about the drama she was presently enduring. Randall had a vested interest in her well being, too, and was mindful of the fact the poor girl had handled plenty, and with aplomb.
“You think we’re putting her through too much?” Corey broke the silence.
“Doesn’t matter now,” Randall replied. “If she thinks forging ahead is costly, she should see the price of falling back.”
They discussed the media at the restaurant and glumly realized that there would be more of the same as Yvonne left the station house. They discussed how much it would cost them to free her and also DeConcini’s dropping the case, leaving them up a creek.
“He told me his practice can’t stand the publicity,” Corey smirked, a true believer that all publicity was good. “He said Yvonne is not someone who can be looked up to.”
“Although looking down is always a pleasure,” Randall permitted himself, because fun is important, even when it comes at a friend’s expense.
“Can it,” Corey exercised his veto power over Randall, who enjoyed the same option, “and tell me about Hat Midone.” His partner said in no uncertain terms that the late hours spent with Hat Midone were so extraordinary – meaning not very ordinary – that he feared the effect of the pleasures on his long-term health and the guilt upon his fragile conscience.
“How’d you end up going out after everything that happened? I was spent.”
“That’s when he called. Those people don’t live like…never mind.”
“That crazy huh? Would you repeat?”
They pulled up to the police station and sure enough, a flock of photographers and other parasites had gathered in the hunt for Yvonne’s hide, both figuratively and literally.
Randall went inside to take care of business. Corey stayed outdoors with the media. “How does this hurt your case?” (big city daily) “Is it true your legal representation backed out?” (celebrity justice show) “Aren’t you married?” (liberal tabloid girl with horn-rimmed glasses) “Did Yvonne have sex in jail?” (national daily). One-by-one he fielded the double-edged barbs, tried to sense which side of the question had been sharpened to do hurt. He had to fight a rancor in the chest stemming mostly from his own interest in the ingénu of this, what shall we call it? Trauma? Tragedy? Light opera? Dramedy?
Inside, Randall was tending to the more satisfying task of insulting the police from behind the facade being an officially interesting person afforded him. Not that the police respected him in any way, rather they feared things might blow up in their faces while a better part of the city’s image and sound-recording machinery was on the premises.
“Tied any butterflies to your wheel lately captain?” he said to a fellow named Devonshire who did not at all appreciate either the tone or content of Randall’s query.
“Your pretty little friend broke the law,” he said with a breezy ease attributable to his own status as an officially interesting person. He stood between criminals and their unfortunate loved ones and this power over human emotion was something quite exquisite in his life. “Now she’ll have to answer for it; just like all of us.”
Devonshire was making a point about the limits of celebrity, Randall’s type in particular.
Randall resorted to his favorite tactic, the track switch. “Do you guys have any confiscated cocaine I might be able to purchase?” He was making his own point about certain rumors surrounding the force. “Oh sheeeeit!” said a black cat in cornbraids awaiting processing. A roll of laughter swept the station house. Devonshire banged his fist on the counter to little disciplinary affect. The laugh would have to unspool itself. Gone was the easy breeze. “Who the hell do you think you are coming in here and talking to me like that?”
“You know very well who I am in relation to the defendant whose bail had more to do with the fact she is known than that she hit a fireman,” he countered.
“You think the whole world’s going to be smelling her ass and yours forever? They’ll move on and I’ll nail you if I see fit.”
It was a perfectly believable scenario for Randall who saw the entire world as a mosaic of such sordid and untold occurrences. “Shall I impart this information to the reporters on my way out?” he countered with the confidence of a man determined to sweep the world clean of such occurrences.
“Sure. And tell them that if they got Al Capone for tax evasion, we’ll get you and yours for worse things.”
Any points to be collected here had either been scooped up or lost and there was no reason for Randall or Devonshire to carry on in this vein.
“Who do I give the money to?” Randall asked and was passed by Devonshire onto a more calm female presence just doing what she was told.
Corey came in. “Wow, that was ugly.”
“Were you able to handle it?”
“Handle’s not the word I would use because it’s not possible, but some of them will at least be gone when she comes down.”
Which she did just then, hair flat against her head, terse lips, ringed eyes, shrunken inside an oversized police windbreaker. She hugged Corey listlessly and said, “Let’s get out of here.”