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NaNoWriMo Chapter Three

Chapter Three

Across town, Detective James Marlin sat in a red vinyl booth and finished off the last of what he thought was St. Paul’s best ruben. The diner, also – in Marlin’s opinion – St. Paul’s best, was empty save for a few beat cops, two drunks, and Marlin’s partner, Gil Laskowski.

“It’s the bread,” he said, wiping the 1000 Island dressing from his lips. “Got to have good bread to make a good ruben.”
“Rye bread ain’t my thing,” replied his partner.
“And you call yourself a Jew.”
Gil Laskowski shoved a wad of vinegar soaked fries into his mouth and said something to the effect of “Fuck you, I’m Polish.”
“Leave it to a fucking Polack to not like rye. Jesus, you get enough vinegar on them fucking fries or what?”
“You know, you’re mighty critical for a guy named after a fish,” said Laskowski. He held up a fry. “And as for this, you should try it sometime.”
Marlin tossed his napkin on the table and pulled a pack of Camel no-filters from his coat pocket. “No thanks,” he replied. “I’d rather not smell like cat piss.”
“Your wife don’t seem to mind.”
“Ain’t you just a funny fucker,” said Marlin loudly enough to draw a dirty look from the waitress.
“Hon,” she shouted from across the diner. “ You better watch that mouth of yours.”
Marlin brushed her comment aside with a wave of his hand. “Or what, Trudy? You gonna wash my mouth out with pie?”
Trudy started laughing. “Banana Cream or Key Lime?”
“You got any of that carrot cake left,” asked Gil.
“You hear me say carrot cake, hon?”
“Never mind the Polack, Trudy,” said Marlin, “he has trouble with big words sometimes.”
Trudy had walked over and started to fill up their coffee cups. “Easy you ugly Norse albino, my daddy was Polish.”
Marlin looked up at her. “Was he really,” he said with some amusement.
Trudy paused. “On second thought, I think he was just stupid.”
Marlin and Trudy erupted in laughter.
“Ain’t you both just a couple of Martin and Lewises,” shot Gil, flipping them both off. “Now if you’re done, I’ll take my slice of pie. Banana Cream.”
“Easy fella,” Trudy said as she held up her hands. “Watch where you point that thing.”
The detectives finished off their pie and were debating whether or not to smoke another cigarette when a couple black and white squad cars went screaming past the diner.

“Shit,” said Gil. “I was beginning to think it’d be a slow night.”

St. Paul might call itself the most livable city in America, but in Marlin’s mind, who ever came up with that bit of nonsense never lived here in July. Or January. Or any other month not named May or October. Because the truth was outside of those brief sixty days, St. Paul was either a humid, mosquito infested shithole or the coldest goddamn place on earth.

Tonight, it was especially humid. Hotter than normal, too. If that was even possible. Nearly three in the morning and still pushing 100. The only time he felt heat like this was on that scar called Okinawa. Of course, it weren’t the heat that made the place intolerable, it was the smell. In all his days, Marlin never smelled anything so wretched and foul as what he smelled on that island. Heat and humidity will make a guy stink to high heaven when he’s alive, but Jesus if it don’t have an even worse effect when he’s dead. Those are the kind a smells a fella never gets used to.

That being said, a dead body don’t smell like roses. No matter how pleasant the conditions are.

“Whould ya look at this shit,” said Laskowski as they slowly rolled past the abandon house and the dozen or so squad cars that were parked in front of the house. “You’d think they’d have the courtesy to save us a fucking parking spot, wouldn’t you?”

“They know you need the workout,” Marlin replied.
Laskowski rubbed his gut. “They’re just jealous. You know, in some customs, a large gut is a sign of importance.”
“Oh yeah,” Marlin said dryly. “Which ones would those be?”
“I dunno, but I reckon it’s in an encyclopedia somewhere.”

A uniformed officer held up the crime tape and nodded as Marlin and Laskowski walked up the sidewalk and onto the front porch.

The house was an abandoned craftsman located in the middle of what was called the Rondo Neighborhood. At one point it had been home to many of the city’s middle class, but since the war it had been in a slow state of decline. It used to be that you’d drive down the street and see kids playing stickball and running around doing the things kids do, but not no more. After a while folks started to wise up to the fact that their neighborhood wasn’t really their neighborhood anymore, so they moved north and west to these new things called suburbs. They’d tell you it was because the houses were newer and the yards bigger, but that wasn’t the reason. Not really, anyway. Sure, a few folks would tell the truth – that Rondo was getting too dark for their tastes, but most would just smile and start telling you about their new car.

So most of the white folks left. And then they all did. And that’s when most would agree that that’s when Rondo started its slow decline. But that ain’t what made it the abandon craphole that it is today. Nope, the reason Rondo was now a lawless wasteland was because Uncle Sam and the Great State of Minnesota decided that the Rondo Neighborhood was in the way of something called an Interstate Highway. And as everyone knows, when the government tells you you’re in the way, you move.

In less than a year since being notified that I-94 was to run smack dab through the middle of their front yards, most had taken the government up on their offer to get bought out. Sure enough, a few old-timers stayed –they weren’t going to let a few ruffians drive them out of their homes, why the hell would they let Uncle Sam – but after a while they even got tired of the violence.

Marlin stepped through the door, followed by Laskowski. He didn’t need to ask where the body was. He just followed the sound of the voices through the living room, into the kitchen, and down the stairs to the basement.

“Would yah listen to ‘em,” said Gil. “Like a bunch of goddamn schoolgirls.”

Marlin pulled a cigar out of his pocket and started chewing on it. He told his wife it helped him think and in some ways it did. But what she didn’t know, what he didn’t tell her, was that cigar smoke was about the only smell that cut through the smell of death. He learned a lot a things in the Pacific, but damned if that wasn’t one of the best.

One of the plainclothes cops noticed them and motioned the men over. Just like a knitting circle, the rest of the men took a step back to accommodate the new participants.

“Sweet Jesus,” said Laskowski as he saw the body, “where’s his fucking face?”
The plainclothes cop spoke, “Cats.”
“How long you figure he been here, Mike,” asked Marlin. “Few days?”
“If that,” he replied. “You shoulda seen all the damn cats that were on this fella.”
Gil crunched his face but kept staring at the body. “You reckon he was dead by the time they got to him?”

Mike’s started laughing.

Marlin glared at him and the man immediately shut up.

“Yes,” he said, composing himself. “We think he was dead. There’ a rag shoved down his throat.”

Marlin looked at Mike and then back to the body. “Like the other one,” he asked.

“You think we got a…” Gil started to say, before stopping himself.

Marlin took a long pull off the cigar. “Ain’t no damn coincidence.”

“I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that rag was soaked in ether,” said Gil as he excitedly to a step closer to the corpse. “You pull it out,” he asked Mike as he moved his hand towards what was left of the body’s mouth. “Or is it still in there?”

Everybody but Marlin took a step back. One of the uniforms gagged.

“Someone got a handkerchief or something,” asked Gil. “Gloves would be nice too.”

He looked up. No one nodded. Nor did they supply a handkerchief. Or gloves.

“Fuck it,” he said. Then he pointed to two of the uniformed cops. “Gimme your pencils.”

They handed them over and Laskowski smiled. “Thank you,” he said. Then he pried open the mouth as far as it would go, reached in and slowly pulled out the rag.

The cop who gagged puked.

Marlin took another pull off his cigar. It’s blue smoke hung in the air and drifted lazily towards the ceiling. A few of the cops standing near him stepped closer in an attempt to inhale it.

“Whatta ya got,” asked Marlin.

Gil held up the rag and turned around to face the group. He moved it closer to his face to get a better look but immediately recoiled and started coughing. The smell was overpowering. He turned his head back to the rag and took another smell. Amongst all the smells that fought to dominate the room, this one stood out. Rotten fruit.

In the background, another uniform puked. Or maybe it was the same one. Hard to tell.

Marlin pulled the cigar out of his mouth and tossed it on the ground. He ground the toe of his black wingtip into it and took a step towards the rag. He inhaled.

“It’s our guy,” he said, smiling at Gil.

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