I was quite flattered by Christina’s invitation to write the first chapter in the Blog Noir Project. I realized in short order that the good thing about writing the first chapter is that the canvas is blank, and that the bad thing about writing the first chapter is that the canvas is blank. Accordingly, I flung a bunch of words on the canvas, hoping that some of them would stick and that those that did ended up in something close to the right place. I would like to thank the normally
blog-hostile blog-indifferent Mrs. Parkway for tossing a few ideas into the mix.
And, with that, I give you BLOG NOIR – CHAPTER ONE
I was already on my third bourbon and sixth Marlboro in Danny’s Blue Bar and it wasn’t even seven thirty in the morning. Danny and I have been buddies since high school, and I’ve been spending my mornings here at the “Blue” for the past eight years or so. I keep him company while he sets up for the rush of guys coming off the midnight to eight shift from the nearby factories and who have only about ten minutes to spare before they have to run off to catch buses and trains for home in New York or other parts of Jersey. Danny runs a tab for each guy and collects on payday. Once in a while a guy will hit a rough spot, but Danny will carry him for a couple weeks. These are hard-working men. They always pay their bar tabs.
Danny knows where each guy will stand at the bar, and he has everything ready for them when they descend upon the place. For Rudy, it’s three separate shots of VO with a water chaser, while Tom’s spot is readied with four Dewars on the rocks lined up like West Point cadets. Stash is strictly a beer guy, so Danny sets up four mugs of Bud, with the handles positioned just right. By ten of eight there are at least seventy-five drinks poured and waiting for their dog-tired owners. The place goes from empty to packed and then back to empty in ten minutes, and it all happens before the beautiful people of the world finish their morning lattés.
My name is Max Robichaux, and I’m a private investigator.
That sure as hell wasn’t my original career choice, but I’ve learned that life is nothing but a long card game in which you play the hands you’re dealt and don’t bother bitching about it, even if you sometimes worry that the deck might be stacked. Back when my life was tidier, I began my mornings by picking up bagels and coffee for Danny and me at the bagel joint across the street. The name of the place is actually “The Bagel Joint,” which shows you what kinds of smartasses are in the neighborhood. Anyway, as things began to get sideways in my life, I followed my morning coffee and bagel with bourbon. After a while I gave up the coffee, and eventually I gave up the bagel too, leaving only bourbon and Marlboros, the Breakfast of Champions.
I know lots of people, but I really have no real friends, except for Danny. He keeps my business cards behind the bar and has sent a fair amount of business my way. Don’t get me wrong. Even though we’re buddies, he can still be a royal pain in the ass, like when he busts my chops about the Marlboros. Hell, he means well, and he doesn’t get mad when I tell him to piss off. Like I said, we’re friends.
So, on this morning, as I was sitting in my regular seat at the end of the bar, breathing through a Red and White and watching Danny do his thing, a guy walks in the door at the other end of the bar and says, “I’m looking for Max Robichaux.” He has what looks like one of my business cards in his hand. Danny points in my direction, and the guy walks up to me and says, “So, where’s Max Robichaux? In the shithouse?”
“I’m Max Robichaux,” I said. “Maxine Robichaux. What’s up?”
“You’re shitting me! Danny never said anything about you being a broad.”
“Yeah, well he’s a regular Alan Goddamn Alda that way. What’s on your mind?”
“I can’t get over it. When I saw the name ‘Max,’ I was expecting somebody who looks like a boxer, not a green-eyed doll who’s built like a brick shithouse.”
“Well, aren’t you the smooth operator. But, you forgot the part about my gorgeous legs that go all the way up to my fine ass.”
“Oh, yeah. Oh YEAH, those too. … Hey, wait a minute! You’re not one of those trans-sensible, fake broads are you?”
Christ, can this guy possibly be a bigger asshole? “No. All my equipment comes stock from the factory. Sorry, but I didn’t get your name.”
The Putz stares at me, then looks at my card, then stares at me again, and says, “Holy shit. With a name like that you must be one of those Cajun babes. I’ll bet you watch Emeril. I fuckin’ love Emeril. ‘Kick it up a notch! BAM!! Kick it up a couple more notches!! BAM!!! BAM!!!’ And what’s with that Zydaphone or Zydasomething music where the guy wears a washboard? You must know all about that stuff.”
I get this kind of shit all the time.
“Listen, pal. I was born and raised in Jersey. I don’t know shit about Cajuns. I don’t give a shit about Emeril, and I don’t know what the hell kind of music you’re talking about. So, whatever the hell your name is, you’re beginning to piss me off. Now, either tell me what’s on your mind, or beat it.”
Turns out that the Putz wanted me to get the goods on his wife who he thinks is screwing Rocco the Pizza Guy. After spending five minutes with this guy I gotta figure that if his wife isn’t humping Rocco the Pizza Guy, she damned well should consider it. Besides, from what I hear, Rocco has done the nasty with half the women within a twenty-block radius of his pizzeria.
Rocco’s M.O. is running into his pizza customers “by chance” in a local saloon and then inviting them back to his restaurant to “learn how to flip a pie.” Once he gets them there, he shows them to a small, couch-equipped room off the kitchen where he dazzles them with his atomic pepperoni.
Actually, I had lied to the Putz about a couple things. First, I told him that I was too busy at the moment to handle his case. I try to avoid matrimonial cases, and, I really didn’t want to get involved in this particular case, because I buy my pizza from Rocco’s place, and I don’t want him spitting in my pies, or worse. Besides, lately I have built up somewhat of a specialty. I have made a couple insurance companies very happy by exposing disability cheats.
I videotape these chiseling shits doing things that disabled people can’t do. It doesn’t take too much creativity to make a few bucks on these cases. For example, the night before garbage pickup day is always good, because the fakers almost always lug the garbage cans to the curb. “Smile Lame Boy. You’re on Max’s camera!” I also kick ass at soccer games. I dress up like a soccer mom and videotape the supposedly crippled soccer moms and soccer dads hopping all over the sidelines. “Score another one for the Maxter!”
The cases are not completely without risk. A few months ago, I videotaped a mid-level mob guy, who was collecting big bucks because he was supposedly crippled with a bad back, carrying cinder blocks out to the curb for pickup the following day. After this creep lost his benefits, I started getting threatening phone calls and letters from him and some of his goombah buddies. The death threats, along with my knowing the right people in the police department, enabled me to get a permit to “carry” in this screwed up state, where the general rule is that only the bad guys are armed.
Knowing that there are a few very unsavory characters out there who would happily shoot my fine ass, I never leave home without my 45 caliber SIG Sauer P220. It fits nicely inside a special compartment in my purse, but make no mistake, if I shoot you with the SIG, you’ll stay shot. I believe if you are going to carry a gun, you should carry one that means business. Not being one who is anxious to take chances with bad guys, if I have to work in particularly nasty places, I’ll also bring along my Walther P5 Compact as a backup. I can conceal that little ass-kicker just about anywhere.
I also had lied to the Putz about the Cajun stuff.
The truth is I am “one of those Cajun babes.” My father was a Cajun. He met my mother while he was serving in the Army in New Jersey, and she insisted that they remain here. However, his heart was always in Louisiana. He schooled me in Cajun culture, and when it came to Cajun cooking, he could teach Emeril a thing or two. And, as far as music goes, not only did we listen to Zydeco music all the time at home, but my father could play the shit out of it on the accordion.
He told me endless stories about life and wildlife in Bayou country, and he insisted that I go with him to the woods of western Jersey so he could teach me how to shoot. Once he even brought me down to Louisiana to attend his cousin’s wedding. I was too young to remember very much about it, but I do recall some of the unique sounds and smells, and how I felt like the cat’s ass standing on my father’s feet as we “danced” on the grass at the outdoor wedding.
I think I was about twelve years old when my father started drinking heavily — and often. Not surprisingly, things turned to shit. He lost a series of jobs because he’d show up drunk, but the worst part was that he would come home shitfaced and angry and use my mother and me as punching bags. This went on regularly for about three horrible years. I grew to hate the rat bastard.
His reign of terror finally ended when one night he decided to give my mother a particularly savage beating. He had already turned her face into raw hamburger meat, and, as if that wasn’t enough, he knocked her to the floor, knelt down on her, pinned her arms with his knees, and began smashing her head on the floor. A neighbor must have called the cops, because they broke through the front door just as I smashed the sadistic prick in the head with one of his favorite cast-iron andouille pans, knocking his sorry ass unconscious and fracturing his skull.
He was arrested and ended up doing a five-year stretch in prison for aggravated assault. Neither my mom nor I ever went to visit the bastard, and my mom burned his clothes and mailed him the divorce decree. I haven’t seen the son-of-a-bitch since the night the cops took him away, and I don’t care if I ever see him again. For all I know, he’s dead, which would suit me just fine, thank you very much.
I cursed that Putz for making me think about this shit. Now I hope his old lady is boinking Rocco.
I normally can hold these dismal memories at bay, but once they rear their heads, they come at me in full force and in living color. The bourbon doesn’t help. I suppose that’s why I began to think back to the time in my life when things actually appeared to be promising. My shit was definitely together, and I was practicing law.
Yeah, I was a lawyer. An academic scholarship, a series of awful part-time jobs and studying like an animal led to my getting a law degree from NYU. I seemed to have a knack for real estate law and, being a loner, the decision to set up shop on my own was an easy one. I had business from the first day I opened the place, courtesy of a minor real-estate boom in the area and the expert marketing skills of my friend Danny. My practice was really beginning to take off when Trevor fucked up, causing me to fuck up, which resulted in my disbarment.
I met Trevor Hastings while spending a summer weekend at the Jersey Shore during my third year of law school. He was a drop-dead handsome lifeguard with dark, wavy hair, deadly pale blue eyes and a great set of buns. I was an overeducated horse’s ass, who either didn’t notice or didn’t care (I’ve blocked it out) that this guy had an IQ only slightly larger than his waistline. Of course, I married the asshole.
While I was busting my ass trying to close as many real estate deals as possible, Trevor was busting his ass trying to see how much cocaine he could pass through his nose. A cocaine habit is difficult to fund, even if you’re flush with some serious cash. However, if your full-time avocation is watching daytime television and snorting coke, paying as you go becomes a real challenge. As a result, he decided to try his hand at being a thief. He stole from all sorts of people, including me. When he turned out to be a piss-poor thief (I had to bail his ass out three or four times), he began borrowing money from the bent-nosed crowd to keep his nose full of that white shit. The first two times he begged for a couple thousand to get the knee breakers off his back, and believe me, he was lucky that I had the money handy.
The clincher was the time he told me that if he didn’t have five grand to pay to the sharks the next day, he was dead meat. I remember that he was so scared when he told me the story that he pissed his pants. I had a cash flow problem. I didn’t have the cash available at that moment, but I knew that the following week I would close two deals that would pay me more than the five grand the asshole needed to avoid becoming room temperature. I guess I wasn’t thinking too clearly when I took five thousand from my attorney escrow account in which I was holding clients’ money for a couple deals that would close in the following week and from which I could then take my fees at the closing.
The following week my deals closed. I took my fees, and I immediately replaced the five grand in the escrow account. The clients for whom I was holding the money in my escrow account never lost a dime. I stupidly figured, “no harm, no foul.”
Unfortunately, the state auditor did not agree. His audit report of my escrow account stated that, “Attorney Robichaux removed clients’ funds from her attorney escrow account for her own use.” As a result, I was charged with official misconduct. When the case came to court, the judge was not at all impressed that I had only borrowed the funds and returned them without the clients losing any money. I became the poster girl for Jersey’s Zero Tolerance Policy for lawyers’ taking their fees from client escrow accounts before they are earned, and with the stroke of a pen, the judge took away my license to practice law.
As for Trevor, the Jerkoff ultimately was arrested trying to hold up a convenience store and caught a hefty jail sentence in Rahway State Prison. Following in the footsteps of my mother, I burned the bastard’s clothes and mailed him the divorce decree – a helluva family tradition. I also sent him a copy of the Court Order jacking my law license, although I don’t expect the piece of shit gave a damn about his clothes, our marriage, or my law license.
By now, I was on my fifth bourbon and wallowing in shitty memories, so I thought I had better get busy and take my self pitying ass to work. As I got up and started walking towards the door to leave, Danny called me back.
“Hey Max, I damned near forgot. There was some guy in here last night asking questions about you. I figured he was a potential client, so I was going to give him the standard pitch and one of your cards, but then he started asking me questions about your father. It struck me as strange, because I had always assumed that your father was dead. Is he dead?”
“I have no idea if my father is dead or alive, and I don’t much give a damn. I haven’t seen or heard from him in damned near twenty years. I can’t imagine why anyone would be interested in him. Did the guy tell you his name?”
“No, he left as soon as I told him I didn’t know anything about your father.”
“Well, what did the guy look like?”
“He was about six feet tall – between 30 and 35. White guy. He weighed about 175. He had short brown hair and brown eyes. He’d be easy to spot, though.”
“Easy to spot? Are you kidding me? You just described about twenty percent of the male population in Jersey.”
“Well, I forgot to mention that the guy had no ears.”
“No ears? Get the hell outta here! Are you sure?”
“Waddya mean am I sure? For Chrissakes, Max, I’m telling you the guy had no freakin’ ears.”
As I was driving the mile or so to my office I wondered if it was humanly possible for someone’s life to be as screwed up as mine. I also found myself thinking that a guy with no ears would have a bitch of a time wearing glasses. Hey, I figure if I can’t laugh at this shit, I’ll go nuts.
After a quick stop to pick up a container of coffee, I arrived at my storefront office, and was pissed to see that yet another person had left a dog tied to my office door and then disappeared. This one was a Rottweiler that must have gone 85 pounds. This doggie dumping had been going on once or twice per month ever since I took over the storefront office formerly occupied by the A.S.P.C.A. It appears that the locals still think the goddamned place is the A.S.P.C.A. and so when they want to get rid of a dog, they just tie the animal to the door and leave. It’s either that or the word is out in the neighborhood that I have a soft spot for dogs.
The Rottweiler did not look at all happy to be tied up, or to see me, and he didn’t look like he was about to let me near the door. In fact, he let loose a lion-like growl when I took a step toward him.
Damn! Here we go again.
I crouched down in front of this angry looking bruiser, stared him right in the face and said, “Listen here. I figure that you have a name, but I don’t know it. This will be easier if I can call you by name. Seeing as how most of you is black as the Ace of Spades, I’m gonna call you ‘Spades.’ I see you’re wearing a collar, but I don’t know whether your owner left you here on purpose, or whether you got yourself lost and some person was good enough to bring you here, but you should know that you’re not my first guest. Here’s the deal. I’ll put you up and try to find your owner. If I can’t find your owner in a couple days, I’ll take you to the real A.S.P.C.A. Now, don’t worry. They won’t kill your ass. I have a deal with them. If no one adopts you in a month, you can come back here and I’ll work on finding you a good home. Sounds fair, right?”
The dog stopped growling.
“Now, in exchange for my hospitality, your end of the bargain is that you cannot shit or piss inside my office or my apartment, you can’t make too much noise, unless of course, someone’s trying to break in, in which case you can make all the noise you want. You can’t be a pain in the ass, and most of all, you absolutely cannot even think about biting me. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that I carry a gun, and if you ever bite me, it’s curtains for you, Spades. You got that?”
With that, Spades cocked his head sideways and his tail began to wag.
“Now that you know the rules, I’m going to stand up in a minute and use my key to open the door.”
As I started to stand, Spades took a step forward and licked my face.
It works every time. It must be a Cajun thing.
The first thing I did once I got in the office was to get Spades some food and water. The poor bastard must have been hungry and thirsty, because he finished the food and drank the water in a minute or two and then nudged me for seconds.
It was at that point that I noticed that there was a small metal cylinder, about one inch long, taped to the inside of Spades’ collar. I said, “It appears that we may be in luck, Spades. This looks like it might contain the name and address of your owner. We’ll have a look, but not until you’ve had your second helpings.”
I busied myself with the mail while Spades finished almost the entire second bowl of food. Once he was full, he ambled over to my desk and flopped down next to my chair. I felt myself quickly becoming attached to this big brute and admitted to myself that I was not happy to think that once I opened that cylinder, his owner would be only a phone call away. Still, returning him to his owner was the right thing to do.
I carefully cut the tape holding the cylinder to the inside of the collar, and unscrewed the two halves, expecting to find a piece of paper. Instead, an off-white object fell out of the cylinder into my hand. I swear, my heart stopped beating for a second or two.
It was the tooth.
My breath quickened, and my hands began to tremble as I stared in utter disbelief at an alligator tooth in which was delicately carved the name “Jules.” On the top of the tooth was a gold setting and an eyelet for a chain. My father, Jules Robichaux, had worn that tooth on a gold chain around his neck since his fourteenth birthday. He told me that he had hunted and killed the gator that had eaten the family dog, and that his father had secretly removed the tooth from the gator and took it to a jeweler to have it inscribed and turned into a pendant as a birthday present.
My mind alternated quickly between being completely blank being assaulted by a montage of images I associated with that tooth, ranging from the beautiful to the grotesque. The last time I had seen the tooth it was swinging from my father’s neck as he was bent over my mother smashing her head into the floor.
I don’t know how long I sat there trying to make sense of it all. The old man disappears for almost twenty years without a trace. Within the last twelve hours, some earless guy shows up asking questions about him, and now this tooth thing. I was bitter, angry, confused and scared shitless all at the same time. It was hard to keep from puking.
I’m not sure how long the phone on my desk had been ringing before I fully paid attention to it and collected myself well enough to answer it.
“This is Max Robichaux.”
“Maxie, it’s daddy.” The connection was bad, and I could hear traffic noises in the background, but it was definitely him. No doubt about it.
“What the hell is going….”
“I don’t have a lot of time, Maxie, so please don’t talk. Just listen to me.”
“Know what daddy? Fuck you! Who the hell do you think you are calling me? You never even showed up for mama’s funeral, you piece of shit.”
“Maxie, please. I’m in serious trouble – very serious trouble, and only you can help me.”
“I’m begging you Maxie. I need you to meet me in forty-eight hours by the carousel.”
“Carousel? What are you talking…”
“Just meet me there. I’m afraid for both of us.”
With that, he hung up. My caller ID did not show a number and dialing *69 didn’t help either.
I sat there for a minute or two trying to figure out what the hell I had done to deserve having this cosmic turd tossed into my punchbowl. Then I dialed the number for the Blue Bar.
“Danny, it’s Max.”
“Yeah, Max. What’s up? I’m kinda busy here at the moment.”
“Look, I need you to come by my office to pick up a dog and take it to your place.”
“Someone left another one tied to your door?”
“Yeah. So, can you do it?”
“Why? Are you gonna be out of town?”
“Danny, for Chrissakes, I’m asking you for a favor here, and you wanna play Twenty Questions. I may be outta town. I may not. I don’t fucking know. I just know I’ll be busy for a couple days and I won’t have time to fool around with a dog.”
“O.K. Take it easy, will ya? Sure I’ll do it. What kind of a dog is it?”
“It’s a Rottweiler, and his name is ‘Spades’.”
At the sound of his new name, Spades came over to the desk and put his head on my lap.
“A Rottweiler? Are you freakin’ nuts? You want me to walk into your office to be greeted by a big-ass Rottweiler? How do I know he won’t rip my goddamned throat out?”
“Don’t worry. I’ll tell him you’re coming.”
“Jesus, Max. I sure wish you’d tell me what’s going on.”
Spades poked my arm with his nose signaling that he wanted to be petted.
“Listen, I’m really confused about lots of things right now. If you come and the dog isn’t here, don’t worry.”
“Are you going to bring him with you to wherever the hell it is you’re going?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. Just come by to check when you close up, OK?”
“Sure, Max. … Be careful, will ya?”
Next week: Chapter Two from Key Issues.