Saturday, December 17, 2005
The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapter 61
Vindaloo Baxley was the gift that kept on giving. Clarisse was now more than just an artisan-for-hire. She’d become something of a confidant to Vindaloo who was, of course, a lonely famous rich girl.
The moment of their coalescing came just after Eilin had captivated Jordan’s attention for good. Clarisse had seen the boisterous and self-confident personality go pale upon looking back out to the sidewalk where the smallest advantage she’d ceded as a courtesy to Jordan had led her to lose him. Now Vindaloo, because another woman had bested her, decided that she really liked Jordan whom, despite his somewhat sloppy and clumsy life, has wracked up a pretty good record where admiration amongst the womanry is concerned.
Vindaloo was too busy creating an image of pure and hip happiness to spend any kind of time on her true emotional well-being, so that in the days immediately after she never put any particular plan into action for winning Jordan over. Clarisse could see that Vindaloo could see that Eilin had the game sewed up and that she was candy-striping her defeat in their little conversations about seduction and such. And Vindaloo could see everything Clarisse was seeing, which is how she came to be the luminary she was in the constellation of actresses. Which is to say that Vindaloo wasn’t stupid. And they were able to keep these truths to themselves and deal with each other affectionately. An important adjustment if you’re talking sorority.
Anyway, the point is that with Vindaloo busting her coffers with sick money Clarisse decided to chip-in and help solve some of The Smokers’ outstanding financial problems. Despite her spot-on assessment that these were the times in which she was to make hay and set up a better, more comfortable future, something in Clarisse’s Catholic upbringing left her with the nagging feeling that this had all been too much fun, that her gains were ill-gotten, that she was an egocentric and frivolous person and was being rewarded for it.
It did not help money matters much that those wanting to assist The Club could almost never locate its members. Each was operating on the fly, improvising in a game they made up as things went along; dodging capture by exactly whom they could never be sure (except Jordan).
With all the telecommunications advances in the world at her fingertips it took Clarisse the better part of a day to finally catch up with Corey, at night, in a hospital where Randall was under observation.
Her common law husband was wrestling with two matters: the first was how to square away Randall’s collapse with the fight for sidewalk smoking rights. What would he say when they pointed out the yawn between what The Sidewalk Smokers Club represented and what Randall’s health said about it? Corey thought it was pretty stupid that they had not seen this coming. They’d hitched bum philosophy’s cart to
The Sidewalk Smokers’ celebrity and now the two things were at odds.
Second was the matter of paying for Randall’s spin through the luxurious world of rolling gurneys, underpaid medical attendees, and whining patients.
The money from the tobacco lobby would pay for the costs of floating Yvonne’s case for as long as possible, but the enterprise was not up to providing health care.
Still they were The Sidewalk Smokers Club and couldn’t very well abandon Randall to his own devices without being noticed.
At least not while he was sitting there like a phantom, still weighing The Smokers’ prospects, worried the media would soon find out about that tobacco money, which they were going to be need along the low road, or even the high road.
“What they shouldn’t find out, they do,” Randall had said earlier, before surrendering to the high-tech chemistry coursing its way through his veins, heart, brain and secondary body organs. He gestured feebly for his notebook and pen on the night stand. Corey handed them over. Randall wrote. Corey marveled and envied his friend the energy and dedication. Randall knew this and kept to himself the fact that there wasn’t anything noble going on; there was simply nothing else to do.
Then Clarisse came in with the money necessary to hire Geffner. A quick sketching of the circumstances however, transformed her contribution from its intended purpose to that of health care. As has been said, The Smokers were adjusting on the fly.
By this she meant that paying Randall’s bills was not exactly what she’d had in mind. She’d wanted to help the whole group. Corey, reading his wife’s face as only a husband can, explained that Randall’s health was for the good of the group and Clarisse wanted to say that remained to be seen, but she didn’t. It was something of a breakthrough and Corey was present to witness it. Resorting to her usual grace Clarisse handed Corey a blank check and washed her hands of the matter.
Meanwhile The Smokers, despite their problems and complicated agendas, were still hot because Corey’s fax blast of the major and minor outlets reaped a number of calls beyond what he could disguise at work. They were just about done with Corey at that place, but afraid to fire him outright for the simple fact he seemed up to something – hatching – and if he was, they did not want to waste their investment in him. They owned what went on inside his head, and thought they wanted it; unaware of the bum philosophy or The Sidewalk Smokers Club, inhabiting a parallel universe as they did, with different games and different prizes and diversions.
He decided to force the issue and take what time he needed for his outside enterprise while providing the lamest of pretenses for springing himself from doing nothing around the office. He wanted to get fired and take advantage of the unemployment benefit – a matter of efficiency to him, recuperating money that had been paid out. There is something of the shark in Corey and reason has served him well up to now.
So he departed with a list of return phone numbers to call and set up a press conference on questions regarding Randall’s health and an overall update on the activities of The Smokers.
Dumburton contacted Jordan and suggested a meeting between them. J. considered resorting to one of his many avoidance mantras, but something in the detective’s voice told him liberty might well be at hand.
They set a meeting at Java World so Jordan felt like he was on home ground, even if he no longer worked there. As Dumburton approached he tossed a nice tight-packed pouch of Drum Jordan’s way. J. read the cop’s language and understood that he’d gotten it all wrong. His time was up.
Dumburton couldn’t wait for him to finish the question before answering. “That day I took you in. I asked you for a smoke without marijuana and you gave it to me. It was the sample I needed.
“Here,” and he threw a manila folder on the table between them. “Have a look.”
Jordan was too busy marveling at how the tobacco had gotten his goat and not the marijuana he’d cavalierly smoked in Dumburton’s face.
Jordan did. He could see it was an affidavit signed by a man named Henry Jones saying he’d seen the Angel Without Mercy and that the smoke from Drum was what he smelled the night of the old lady’s untimely and tragic death.
“I think they call that circumstantial evidence or hearsay or some such notion that translates into you having nothing,” Jordan returned the folder to the table.
“Not coupled with an ID. This guy remembers you. He’ll pick you out of a lineup.”
“What if he doesn’t want to?”
“You suggesting you’d tamper with the witness you little pussy?”
“We wouldn’t tamper. We’d just get out the cuerno de chivo.”
Dumburton’s face clouded. “Did you say what I think you just said?”
There were a million ways to get you. Your average grandmother was probably guilty of breaking three or four important laws. In having to deal with it daily, Jordan’s humility before authority had grown. For it struck him that the detective could put some cuffs on the suspect, drive him out to a place of cliffs and cathedral-like launches of upward rock, shoot him in the head and toss him over on some particularly inky night without fearing any call, at all, to accountability.
“It could happen,” he told himself, fighting back some comment sure to upset Dumburton’s flimsy control of his darker selves. It was a decision rooted in J.’s firm intent to stay out of jail at all costs and thereby consort with his passion friend.
Simultaneously, the detective thought he saw something like fear finally wash over Jordan’s face. It may have been more like fatigue, but that was okay. Dumburton would have to settle for it given his quarry’s admirable talent for dissimulation.
“Anyway,” he said violently swiping the folder off the table, causing a flinch from Jordan’s quarter, “you’re off the hook. I could nail you, but you’re off the hook.”
Jordan hadn’t gotten it wrong after all. He was free. He could feel it.
“The orders from upstairs are to turn down the heat on this, bury it until things blow over,” he said dejectedly, disgustedly. “Politics are involved now, your smoking friends, a real mess. Nobody wants to touch it in an election season. So you walk.”
“Aren’t you giving up a little too easily?” Jordan said rather counter-intuitively.
“Look,” Dumburton said before wetting his nose in the double cappuccino, “No one knows better than you how I put plenty inta this thing.”
“Yeah. You did a bang-up job.”
“It was a good issue,” Dumburton went on. “It had promise and national implications.”
Jordan was unaware the detective harbored presidential ambitions.
“So you’re saying, it sounds like to me, uh, c’est la vie. That even though you’re certain I killed the old lady. It’s time to move on.”
Dumburton nodded “That’s right and that’s the difference between you and me. I feel obligated to do as I’m told, you feel obligated to do the opposite.”
“My world’s freer,” said Jordan.
“Mine’s safer and cleaner,” responded Dumburton, “which is a kind of freedom, too.”
“Except if you’re unsafe and dirty.”
Unsafe and dirty were the objects of Dumburton’s personal crusade and he could not understand how a nice boy with almost every advantage like Jordan would throw his lot in with the insecure and filth-ridden, the whiners, moochers, and marchers.
“Jeezus, Dumburton,” Jordan decided to make use of his face-time, “you hounded me like an obsession.”
Dumburton nodded benignly. It was merely part of a larger day’s work.
“No, what I’m saying,” Jordan put a forefinger in his former tormentor’s face, “is that you fuckin’ hounded me. You disrupted my existence. Tried to end my life.”
Jordan was trembling at first, but the steam was blown and next there was a relaxed air rising between these two representatives of distinctive demography.
“You forget a lot of the fear came from the guy tailing you and that had nothing to do with me. I was only half your troubles pal. And by the way, you need to settle down.”
Jordan was taken aback at the level of intimacy Dumburton employed, but even more amazed that he was wise to Carlos’s bodyguard.
“Anyway, I get a little edgier where old lady killers are concerned,” Dumburton appealed to Jordan’s reasonable side.
“That’s not police work. It’s thuggery.”
“Fill in the blanks of my response for me,” said Dumburton with an easy snarl.
“That’s what you’re paid to do?”
“Thaaaaat’s what I am, a thug,” and his tone jumped an octave in a burst of confessional rage. “I’m a third-degree black belt in karate. I can bust a man’s heart from fifty-feet away with a good pistol. I corner desperate men and subdue them.”
It was one hell of a job description thought Jordan who, despite his guilt, resented being grouped together with the kind of men Dumburton was going on about.
The case dispatched of, the rosy tinge of fading youth restored to Jordan’s cheeks for the first time in months, and now there was a dearth of things the two men might talk about. They had ceased to share something, anything, in common. Or had they?
“I guess it was time for the old coot to drop, huh?” Dumburton raised his eyebrows at J. who was sticking with the plan and refused to comment. The cop stuck out his hand. He wanted bygones to be bygones. Jordan wanted to punch him in the face for abandoning him to the mediocrity of life as a non-suspect.
Dumburton took the hand back, smiling naturally. “Ah, you’ll get over it with time,” which Jordan thought was very true and therefore very aggravating. Dumburton continued to sweeten up the dish. “This is life, things happen. Give me a call sometime.”
Give me a call? The detective dropped his card on the table in front of Jordan. “You’ve been a worthy opponent and you’ve got balls.” Jordan thought he could have done without the wrestling match and learned such things about himself some other way.
“Reason I say so is because my brother...he has a little marina up the coast. He’s tired of running it and he’s lookin’ for somebody to step in. If I weren’t committed to the force I’d take him up on it myself. It’s a creampuff job. Comes with a life on the water, great big boats, girls out the ass and a house big enough to fit you and a kid if you wanted. You just tie up the yachts, you just let out their rope.
Tie ‘em up, let out their rope. It’s a sweet life.”
The rhythm sounded simple enough and here was this dreadful man offering entree. He wanted to say yes, Jordan, but sagely opted for a little meditation first. This was, after all, Dumburton and the association would take some getting used to.
Noting Jordan’s numbness the detective gestured and went on his way, excited at the idea of his visit being of momentous event to the younger man.