Thursday, October 21, 2010

Donahue and the Hatchet Thrower

The house at the corner of Eldon and Wright was old. A hundred years old. The paint was new. The garage was new-ish. The property was bordered on two sides with a knee-high concrete wall topped with box elder. The porch, a wrap around with a low rail, needing paint --the whole place could use some care-- was the height that Donahue used to try to jump over when he was kid. Sometimes he cleared it and sometimes he landed on his head. Or, in the forsythia. Which his mother disliked immensely. But the big stairway provided a makeshift stage for all the kids to play act on. The porch rail seemed taller then.

Donahue had watched enough scary movies to know he should never turn his back on a closet or a back his way through a hallway but he also had his .45 out and cocked and nerves of steel (not so much I-beam steel and wire steel.) The front door was open and he knew William Cobb Abernathy aka "B.C." aka "Sweet" (although no one seemed to know why he was called that and the last guy who did call him "Sweet," at the Riverside Tap and Dance, lost two teeth for his unauthorized familiarity) might be in the house this time. Sweet Abernathy was wanted for assault with a deadly weapon on the person of Jill Smithson. Ms. Smithson had no beef with Sweet Abernathy and he none with her but she said something inappropriate, apparently, and he went after her with the heavy end of a pool cue and a beer bottle. She was pretty well bloodied by the time the barkeep got there with his genuine Louisville Slugger. Abernathy lashed back and the crowd ducked long enough for him to get away.

Mr. Smithson was one to think the cops wouldn't find Sweet Abernathy so he hired Donahue to do it instead and sooner, perhaps for personal reasons. The cops had already searched the Eldon Street address, Sweet's mother's home. She was in the nursing home and Sweet would stay at the Eldon Street house sometimes but not that day and not several other days until Donahue figured Sweet just couldn't be anywhere else. Sweet didn't have a girlfriend, that Donahue knew of, and a call at the residents of Sweet's two best pals from an earlier run-in with the long arm of the law proved fruitless.

The house was cold. It was late October and the heat ought to be on but it wasn't and the lights were off except for one in the kitchen. Donahue gravitated to the kitchen but mostly it was only stale aired. The 'fridge hummed and there were dishes still in the drainer from the last time he was here, and a few pots stacked on the corner of the oven. The linoleum-topped table in the middle was just a tad dustier than last time, too. Donahue, .45 at his side, circled the table and then started down the hall towards the front of the house, nearly spooked by his image in the hall mirror by the front door.

Not looking ahead but instead looking down, he sensed something behind him, in the kitchen. He spun to his right, .45 coming up to eye-level, as the hatchet whistled by his ear. He saw Sweet Abernathy, crouched on the table, in some convoluted pose, a cross between Superman and Kato and Bruce Lee. The hatchet sailed on non-stop directly to the mirror, the crash of breaking glass ignored if even anyone heard. The .45 exploded in a deafening roar, the kick wrenching Donahue's half-bent elbow.

Sweet took the slow, heavy, lead round just below his Batman utility belt, folding him in half down to a four-point stance on the table. He didn't move for what seemed like an hour, as if he were getting his breath back, then his head, hooded in red, trimmed in lightning bolts, dipped to the table top.

Donahue froze, too, in awe. His fight and flight instincts in checkmate. He didn't swallow. He didn't breath. He didn't blink. He knew what happened in the movies if he did.

Sweet Abernathy dropped a shoulder, and ever so slowly, tipped over, off the table, almost landing on his back, his foot flailed out and caught the stack of pans on the corner of the oven, and they followed him down to the floor with a crash that broke through the ear-ringing of the .45.

Donahue got up his nerve to approach Sweet's body, wedged between the table and the oven, a pan laying flat on his chest. Donahue had seen too many movies where the warrior-wanabe leapt up from certain death to decapitate his victim in one motion with time enough leftover to smoke a cigarette.

But not Sweet Abernathy. He was completely dead.

Donahue and the Working Girl

Ducky Malone owed money. He'd posted his bond with DubyaARMs and now that he was out (60 days for provoked assault), he owed them, too, since his two-bit piece of property didn't quite cover all his fines. Which was why Franc Donahue had parked along the curb on Mathis Street in an older part of town where the houses were some what better than others and the others were really not up to the standards of the better, in front of Number 128 East Mathis with a few weeds, burned out roses, and three jalopies, of various origins, in the gravel driveway.
Ducky wasn't a lover. Particularly. But he wasn't a runner either. He'd been in a few rough and tumbles in his time, so'd Franc Donahue --SP, city cop, private investigator, they all worked in a rough and tumble environment-- and he, Ducky, knew when to stand up to a guy and he knew when to laugh it off and leave the scene.
Greg Fowler of DubyaARMs wasn't happy Ducky was avoiding him. And for the usual percentage, if Franc Donahue could locate Ducky, and for a bonus bring him in, Greg would be a happy fellow, once more.
"Find him," said Greg Fowler. "He owes me. This is the last time. And I hear he's got some money."
"I'm surprised," said Donahue. "Ducky isn't one to welch on his bond. He's got his faults --to be sure that's what got him in the pokey in the first place-- but he's got a big heart."
"Yeah, it's just matched with a small head," said Greg Fowler.
Donahue hitched up his pants and stayed on the sidewalk in front of her house like he was supposed to do. The front porch was one of those half porches with plastic chairs, scraped up and cigarette burnt, for porch furniture.
Ducky Malone wasn't a drunk but he did visit the bars when he could. And when he could meant he either had time on his hands or money burning in his pocket. Or both. Donahue drank a few beer and scotches trying to find Ducky Malone, first at the Ambassador Hotel bar which was, on second thought, a bit too upscale for Ducky Malone and then at the Idlewild B&G over down town. Nothing. Malone got 60 days for forging checks released in 39 for good behavior and time served. Not a angry person but has tended to always be a loser more than a winner. Not tall. Not fat. Lots of hair. Good teeth.
Donahue's last chance for the day (one more beer or one more scotch would about be the limit) was where he'd tracked down Ducky one time before at the Moses Bar over on the east side of the interstate. The town of Madison wasn't really divided so much by the tracks as by the interstate somebody had decided to lay down the middle of the town. The boosters at the time had wanted the city to grow west from the new interstate (towards the newly planted mall) and they successfully purchased their wish. It was the east side that suffered. But the Moses flourished, if bars can really ever flourish.
Why the Moses Bar got it's name was before Donahue's time and maybe so unknown that nobody today had a clue. The Moses was dark, dank, smoky, and dangerous. He'd been called to a few fights at the Moses when he was a patrolman and it was un-nerving to go inside. Through a foyer that had a 90-degree turn to it and he plunged from the glare of the sun into a dark of a cave. It wasn't unitl the city pulled their license that the owner of the place, a guy from neighboring Bristol, Tenn., named Anthony Booher, began to enforce behavior rules and limiting drinks at the risk of losing customers. Which he did lose but stayed in business. That particular (or peculiar) clientele, who wanted to just get drunk and take out their frustrations on somebody like themselves, went elsewhere. Usually.
A young man tended the bar, which spanned the length of the building. Everything from the back room had to go through those gaps in the bar at end of the bar where the waitress could enter the bar or the keep could exit, like when, in the olden days, he'd bring his cudgel. The youngster --to an ever aging Donahue-- looked too fresh, too nice, too weak to manage the pretend rowdies who migrated there from the two neighborhood plants. Of those plants one was down to the day shift but the other was going full out with three shifts. Not bad places to work and not rough places but decidedly blue collar, as if there was something wrong with that, but people who worked with their hands and on their feet and putting things together, one after another after another after another, who wanted a beer or two or three on a Friday, who traded one routine with another.
Donahue, in white shirt and slacks, pulled up a stool at the bar. Ordered a Scotch on the rocks. Took a sip and pushed his hat back on his head, sighed. Took another sip. Good Scotch.
"Nice day today," he said to the barkeeper. The kid nodded his head and smiled in reply. Otherwise, nothing.
"I haven't been in here in a while," said Donahue, "place looks better than it did a couple of years ago."
"Yeah, I suppose," said the kid. "I've worked only since last summer, year ago. I hear it was really getting awful a couple of years ago. Owner fixed it up."
"There used to be this guy who I got to know but I've moved away. Wonder if he's around?" said Donahue. "Name's Ducky. About five-eleven, wiry. Looks tough but he's really got a heart of gold. Scar on behind his left eye, like here."
The kid paid attention but didn't really seem interested.
"You a cop?"
"Nope. Private. I gotta keep-out-of-jail card for Ducky. He'd want it delivered personally, I think."
"Can't help you. Sorry."
"Don't be sorry for me. Be sorry for Ducky. It's his lucky break."
"You know," said a voice attached to a man older than Donahue, grey beard, clean and neat clothes, skinny and tall. "I saw him a couple of weeks ago. At the Silver Dollar, across the street?"
"Oh," said Donahue, "he's trying a new watering hole?"
"I don't know. He had a ugly looking girlfriend. You know, the working-girl type you wouldn't take home to mama."
"Well, that's something. Did you get a name?"
"He kept calling her Maria. You know, like from West Side Story."
Outside the Moses, Donahue called Lt. Hobbs in the city police department who switched him to Sgt. Hannah in vice who switched him to Det. Gouge who was able to suggest "Maria" was actually Mary Areea Landerson aka Maria Landers who had been hauled into court four times for solicitation for prostitution. Last known address was 128 East Mathis. The prostitution charges had never stuck.
The Silver Dollar would never be a tourist spot. It was an old gas station that had probably contributed to the general groundwater pollution of Madison but those owners were long gone, ducking a mess. And the Silver Dollar had sort of sprouted up. The city's liquor licensing board hadn't found any reason to not issue a license. The police had few calls there.
As far as Donahue was concerned it was still a grubby hole in the wall. Worse, if Maria was there no one was admitting it.
Her house wasn't much, ever. A minature cottage, almost, on a standard lot on a standard street, in a standard neighborhood. A tricycle in the yard, in the weeds in the yard. All three of the cars had primer-painted spare parts. Someone had glued green carpet to the concrete porch and the carpet was worn and torn. In this neighborhood, he thought, most folks wouldn't complain.
Donahue straightened his tie, for no reason other than habit, knocked on the door. Nothing. Knocked again. The aluminum storm door didn't fit right and rattled in the jamb. The inner door opened, a bottle blonde, in tee-shirt and jeans, cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth, eyes reddened and dulled, stared at a spot about where his tie knotted. She looked a quart low.
"Hi," he said.
She blinked, slack jawed, like a person is when they get up before noon. In her case, before sunset. There was a pause. She opened the door without inviting him in and he didn't ask.
"Are you Maria?" he said.
"Who are you?" she said, the cigarette bounced up and down.
"Well, I'm not the cops, obviously. And I reckon I'm too early." He left the rest of the comment hanging where is was. "Do you know Ducky Malone? By any chance? Seen him in the last little bit?"
She thought for a moment, as if either dredging up some memory or stalling for time, "No. Not for a couple of weeks."
"He's been out for about two weeks, maybe, three, weeks, right?"
"Yeah, somethin' like that."
"I hear he's come into some money. I'm looking to do him a favor and get one of his debts off his back."
She choked on Donahue's well meaning for Ducky's credit rating. She waved him in the front door. The place was tidy but worn. A living room to the front door's left and the kitchen and nook to the right. A short hallway to the bathroom and bedrooms. Back in the back the bedroom doors were open. Donahue stared that way, hard.
"How's that?" she said.
"He owes DubyaARMs a chunk for bailing him out."
"Well, if he gets into trouble again, nobody'll touch him. So, it's to his benefit to pay DubyaARMs. "
"And, you get a fee, don't you?"
"You make it sound immoral, or something. If you see Ducky send him over to DubyaARMs and take care of it. I know Ducky enough to know how long he might go before he needs them again."
"Ya, well, Ducky's on the straight and narrow. See this?" She held up her left hand, ring finger and middle finger, more middle finger than ring finger, but the point was well stated, even for her. The rock on her ring finger was the size of lug nut.
"Where'd he get that? Ducky got money for that rock he's got money to pay Greg," said Donahue.
"You tell Greg Fowler and all those happy-to-do-business-with-you bunch that Ducky bought this 'specially for me and said he'd be around and was going to set everything right."
"What'd he mean by that?"
"I don't know. He had a wad and sprung for this diamond and that makes me happy."
Donahue let his eyes roam the front room and kitchen. There was a shadow of movement from one of the bed rooms. He sidestepped Mary Aeera Landerson and took a step towards the rear of the house.
"Don't suppose Ducky's in the back?" he said.
"No!" and she took a grab at his sleeve. "That's." She paused deciding what to say. "That's somebody else."
"Right," said Donahue. He didn't sound convinced.
A glance at the profile that peeked out of the doorway proved her right.
Donahue nodded towards the shadow.
"Friend or foe?" he said.
"Is it friendly? Will it bite?"
"Oh," she glanced away, looked tired, "No." A pause, then, "He's goin' to work."
Donahue acted like he didn't care but kept a weather eye out for movement in the back rooms.
"Look," he said, "I don't care about Ducky's personal life. I do care about his paying his debts to Greg Fowler. If Ducky pays up, DuybaARMS will be delighted to do business with him again. Personally, from my few times I've met Ducky, I hope he gets his life straightened up enough to not need them again. It's be nice, don't you think?"
She stepped to the door, opening it. Conversation over.
"When, again, did he buy that?"
"I really don't remember. Maybe three weeks."
"Right," said Donahue. Still not convinced. He tipped his hat.
"Yeah," she said. "You're a real gentleman."
Standing in the sun on the front porch, rocking on his feet, hands in his pockets, he let his eyes wander from one end of the street to the other. A smirk crept onto his lips.
"Maybe it's OK for this neighborhood, but not mine."