sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Vigilante Moon (part one)

Vigilante Moon

a fictional short


Just because the curtain is drawn inside the bordello’s 
window doesn’t mean that you don’t know what’s going on inside.


The gas lamp sizzled to life in the corner of the damp basement. Black water condensed and dripped from a corner, pooled and then migrated to drain through a rusted grate in the floor. From there it slurped slowly into the sewer. John Dewey didn’t care because the basement offered him one thing he could get nowhere else. Genuine privacy.

Nobody else knew that the room existed beneath the vault of the aging First Interstate Bank. Well, not until he told me about it and I didn’t say a word to anyone else.

He surmised that it had been constructed as a furnace room for the dry goods store that Tavagleone & Sons ran back before Third Interstate Bank showed up and built a bank and then an office building on top of that at the conclusion of the Second World War. When they installed the depository, the contractor walled up the entrance and  the presence of the hidden room passed from memory.

Dewey found it by accident seven decades later when the building superintendant hired him on to swamp the floor and maintain the hallways of the executive condos stacked twenty stories over the top of the bank. The stairway down had been turned into a broom closet and the air gently blowing through the wood slat wall at the back alerted him to something that wasn’t quite what it seemed. He pushed one plank out. The nails in damp wood resisted with an audible groan but they gave way with very little effort.  The space beyond, black as a crypt, had been left unseen by human eyes for nearly a century, but sets of tiny red rodent eyes reflected back when he shined his flashlight down the rotting stairway. It was damp, the result of a pipe in the process of falling apart, spraying a fine mist into the void.

For the next seven weeks, he improved the stairs leading down, replacing rotten steps with new planks. He cleaned out the room itself to the extent he was able, and he plumbed in a natural gas line from the main that led to the bank’s heating unit. The energy heated the dank room and provided weak light to a room that would otherwise have existed in eternal inky darkness. Dewey thought about stubbing in an electric line, but the place was wet enough and his skill at dealing with electricity inexpert enough that he knew would just as likely electrocute himself.

The stairway led straight down, however, in his exploration, Dewey found a vent that led to the outside. He enlarged it, camouflaged the entrance, and then sealed off the top of the stairway thoroughly so that nobody else was likely to discover or duplicate his path.

After he completed the project he quit his night janitorial job and opened a small storefront pawnshop down the street between Girls-Girls-Girls, and Indian Food. Before it was a pawnshop, the place had been a dry cleaner owned by a succession of Korean proprietors. Inside it smelled strongly of perchloroethylene and the smell drifted into both Girls-Girls-Girls and the Indian food restaurant, though nothing could be done about it. John Dewey never seemed to care one way or the other about the smell. If he did, I never heard him comment and I never asked him.

On the day that seemed to start it all, I walked into Dewey’s Pawn and Loan wearing my uniform  with my badge shined to a high luster, since I was on duty.

“Michael Francis Xavier Muldoon!” Dewey shouted from the back office, using my full name.

“Sergeant Muldoon to you, John Howard Dewey. How’s my favorite shylock?”

He came out of his den like a lion strutting on the veld with a slightly shaggy mop of lion colored hair and a very closely trimmed beard. Dewey stood three or four inches shorter than me, which put him at about six feet. His face had an unremarkable cast. His nose might be a bit too long and his ears might have stood out slightly more than what one would consider perfect, but his eyes were bright blue with mirth and there were wrinkles that radiated out from the corners.

A large puddle of water filled the floor of the pawnshop.

I looked around the office. Everything he had taken in could be summed up in a single word. Junk. He took in junk and handed out money. Dewey didn’t have any money of his own. He worked with me on the Police Department until the day came when they told him that he either joined the Party, or he’d be discharged with prejudice. Dewey lost his pension, his benefits, his career and his income that day because he didn’t join. I wasn’t as strong as Dewey. I had a wife and three children to support whereas he had three ex-wives who hated him and no ex-kids. I’m not offering it as an excuse. Dewey was the better man that day, as with most days.

With no income from the State, he took odd jobs and one day to the month after the big 7th Avenue armored car robbery, he opened his pawn and loan store. From that point on, he took in goods and handed out money to those in need. I made the connection but I don’t know that anyone else did. The detectives looked for members of a local mixed gang consisting of black males and Cambodian females, as the culprits because the only lead they had came from me. They weren’t ever able to positively connect the Thirtieth Street Mafistos with the robbery. What do I know? I’m the downtown walking beat supervisor on swing shift. I’m definitely not a trained investigator.

As usual, Dewey gave me an appraising glance and a wink, glancing toward the coffee pot. I nodded casually and he said, “I hope you don’t expect me to buy you a cup and pour it for you.”             

My china mug with the Department’s logo on it sat next to the Silex where it always did. I toggled the handle and filled it to the brim. Even though sugar shortages meant that nobody had sugar, Dewey had not only sugar, but cubed sugar. I dropped a lump in the coffee and then, on second thought, added a second. Why not? Live large! The armored car had been carrying the Party’s squeeze.  Dewey hit the armored car belonging to the Party and showed the goons who guarded it how things were done downtown.

John Dewey picked up a push broom and started moving the water puddle toward a drain.

“Did you have trouble today, John?”

“Weren’t much trouble, Mike.”

I knew Dewey from the old days. He was a black-glove cop and he didn’t tolerate much misconduct on the part of people before they found out that though he was a man of generally pleasant disposition, he could be mean as a cobra when crossed.

“Something I should know about?” I pulled out my 245 Gonzales Sap from the sap pocket of my trousers. Dewey and I were about the only officers who carried saps, and now he left the department it was only me. The younger officers favored electronic disablers, which I liked as well. A stun gun is effective, I guess, but I have always favored the sap. There is something about eight ounces of led spring weighted inside a leather sheath.

“Just the usual thugs from the ISEU coming by to coerce me to become a union store." John lifted his hands in supplication. "I told them I’m a one-man show and don’t need to join the union.”

The International Service Employees Union operated as the enforcement arm of the Party. When somebody got out of line, they usually ended up on the wrong side of bare-knuckle fighters from the ISEU.  I worried about Dewey when it came to the ISEU. “The Party is polite, the ISEU isn’t. The Party screws you with paperwork and the ISEU busts in your head with a truncheon.” I said that but I took note of the water on the floor and the heavy rubber boots that Dewey wore.

“Two guys come in here into my house and say that a one-man show like mine needs to hire some people from Local 5424 in order to make sure that all this inventory doesn’t walk away. They said a man like me needs protection.”

“You’ve been able to keep an eye on things so far.” I said.

“That’s what I told those fellas.  And the big guy, a high yellow nigger who bounces for Willy’s Tavern part time--."

“Freddy Dill,” I added, correctly identifying the guy.

“Yeah, that’s his name. Freddy. Anyway, Freddy tells me that I can’t live on past glory, and says that he and his buddy, who I’ve never seen before, are going to show me by example how easy it is to steal from me. The other guy has a handgun and he pulls up his shirt to show it to me.”

I slapped the sap I held in one hand into the palm of the other. There were some ISEU guys who were going to need some educating.

“Freddy comes around and grabs the register to punch the cash drawer open.”

I interrupted. “But none of them noticed the water on the floor?”

“They asked about that. I told them that I couldn’t afford a union plumber. But I didn’t say anything about a union electrician because who can afford one of them?”

“So Big Freddy Dill grabbed the register?”

“Yeah,” Dewey smiled. “He completed the circuit. 220 volts. And he couldn’t let go, so this other guy tries to rescue him and he completes the circuit too. It will teach them to wear wingtips into my store when they should be wearing rubber boots.” Dewey laughed a wicked laugh. "I thought it would turn out to be an accidental death situation but both of them survived."

“How long did they sizzle?”

“Big Freddy bit his tongue something horrible and I let him keep biting until the tip fell off. Then I thought it was time to rescue them but as you know, there is no way to do that unless you hit them with something non-conductive like a baseball bat and break the circuit.”

“You could have turned off the power.” I added dryly.

“Rules require a union member to do that. It’s organized labor's prerogative.” Dewey said, quoting the spirit of the regulation.

“Of course.”

“So I saved them.”

“How long did it take?”

“I went for the bat, taking care not to injure myself, and only found an old axe handle so I used that. One solid hit on Big Freddy broke him loose from the register." Dewey smiled like a shark. "They always come in fours. There were two more guys next door in Girls-Girls-Girls shaking down Silky Jackson. They came over and asked what happened. I said that Freddy, he who now missed an inch-and-a-half of tongue, was kind enough to look into my electrical problem for me since he was a union member and ended up hurting himself and his friend.”

“They bought it?”

“Sure, I gave them the hundred that I  told them I had promised Freddy if he’d fix my electrical. They palmed it and hauled away Freddy and his friend. They said they’d make sure Freddy got the cash. I believed them. I don't know about you.”

I summarized, “Sounds like you were lucky to have union guys here to work on your electrical. I presume it’s fixed?”

Dewey affirmed, “Whatever they did must have fixed the problem—for now.”

“When did the water leak start?”

“When I saw the thugs go into the Indian restaurant next door.”


Index





10 comments:

  1. Gonna be a good one, I can just tell.....

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  2. I enjoyed that. Don't get arrested for thoughtcrime.

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  3. I know that guy... Dewey... :-)

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    Replies
    1. Sometimes it works out like that.

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  4. Why do I keep arriving at blogs to find Coffeypot and Old NFO already here?
    Like the story so far
    Differ

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    Replies
    1. You have to wake up early to beat John and Jim.

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