There was a new waitress at the diner. Pretty, young, blonde and oh so desperate to be helpful. Not that a smile or an overenthusiastic congratulation on his order amounted to much more than begging for tips, but that in and of itself was power. Minimum wage or whatever this place paid her wasn’t going to cover the bills, so she needed to play nice, or she’d be out on the streets in a heartbeat.
It was dark outside, save for the occasional flash of car headlights moving on down the road to any other part of town but here, and while the diner might once have been up to snuff the repeated trials and tribulations of sugar rush vomit and after hours fistfights had left it looking quite the worse for wear. It wouldn’t be so bad but the white strip lighting overhead threw every imperfection into sharp relief. The unattractive wrinkles now crowding Stephanie’s face, the longest serving waitress here, she used to be so hot. He banged her in the disabled toilet outback about three years ago, just as she was on the turn from alright to look at to positively foul. She had backed up into the head shaped divot in the dry wall and she hadn’t asked any questions. She has been perfectly silent, in fact. Such a shame to see her like this.
“How’s that coffee?” The new waitress bubbled, diving in to clean up the dirty plates at the table just across from him.
The coffee was painfully average, but he smiled and dipped his eyes momentarily before coming back up to meet hers. “It’s perfect, thank you.”
“You know, that’s not a very common order for this time of day. What have you got to be up for?”
You, he thought, eyeing the curve of her ass under the woefully unflattering black and white uniform she was forced to wear round here. It was like a sack. “I have a lot of work to get done tonight.”
“Oh yeah? Busy man.” The waitress straightened up and moved on her way with lipstick sheen smile. Her wallet was conspicuously stuffed into the skirt pocket of her uniform so he took the opportunity to swipe it as she sauntered back to the kitchen.
Kerry Swan had three different credit cards, loyalty cards for coffee shops all over town, twenty two dollars and a driver’s licence in her wallet. The year on the licence confirms that she’s nineteen, more than legal. That’s good, he’d been losing track of how many conquests he’s had to put on the back burner recently, the last thing he needed was another dud.
He finished his coffee and headed up to pay. Stephanie and Kerry had their attentions firmly fixed on the stuttering old television suspended over the milkshake bar, watching the news roll in about a body dragged up from the river. Pundits passed the ball between each other, wildly speculating as to which unsolved murder this might tie back to.
For all they knew, this a whole new perpetrator. He cleared his throat and held up Kerry’s wallet. “I think you dropped this?”
Kerry blinked as she turned to look at him, still caught in the magic of the television murder mystery. Her eyes landed on the wallet and her brows knitted into confusion. Frantically, she patted herself down and when she found no wallet waiting for her she leapt at him. “Oh my God, thank you!”
“Hey, don’t mention it.”
“I didn’t even realise I’d lost it. Most of the people who come through here wouldn’t have handed it back.” Kerry grinned. There was a pretty flush to her cheeks that reminded him of summers spent tearing through the Jersey Shore, always three feet behind his sister.
The rage that subsumed him was as much guilt as righteous anger, jaw clicking, must avert the eyes. If you let them see you like this they never come quietly. “Don’t mention it.”
“Well, if there’s ever anything I can do to pay you back, just let me know.” He looked up and saw her clicking through the keys at the till, ringing up his order. “That’ll be three dollars and five cents.”
If she lost a little weight and really committed to a haircut, she could be movie star hot, plastered up on every billboard from here to Los Angeles. God. Pretending that she doesn't like it, pretending that she does. Slipping in to the lie for the sake of profit rather than because she’s really willing to commit to it.
But he was getting ahead of himself. “Actually…I was wondering if you might let me take you out for coffee sometime.”
“Coffee?” Kelly raised an eyebrow as she handed him back his change. “Depends. Where were you thinking?”
“Oo, I love it there!”
“You don’t say?”
“Say…Saturday? At 11?”
Kerry positively beamed at him and her teeth were so white he could inlay them on a grand piano and no one would know the difference. “It’s a date.”
As he made his goodbyes, his eyes slid over to Stephanie, still glued to the television. She had nothing to say to anyone about anything. She never did. If she knew what was good for her, she never would.
“Look, I’m just saying. I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who just so happens to possibly have an in with Al Qaeda. I’m gonna see if I can’t expand our client base.” Frank grinned.
Mac couldn't remember the last time he heard anything so dumb. “Al Qaeda? What is that? Don’t come in here taking about last decade’s most ‘where are they now’ terrorist organisation, Frank. Jeez. You’re gonna make us look bad in front of all the other Muslim extremist groups.”
“What? A good salesman knows how to market to the winners and the losers of this world. A lot of the old guard in terrorist circles still look up to Al Qaeda. Think about it! We make a name for ourselves with them and suddenly everyone’s extremist Grandpa is drinking Wolf Cola.”
“Yes, that’s exactly my point!” Mac stopped pretending to wash up and slammed his hands down on the bar in exasperation. “If we get in with the old guys, then everyone else is always going to see us as the old guys’ drink. We have to market to a younger audience to get the kids on board.”
Frank made a face. “Oo, I don’t know about that?”
“What do you mean you don’t know about it?”
“I just don’t think that Wold Cola is really best marketed for kids. What with the high alcohol content. Kids can’t handle their booze, I don’t want everyone thinking that it just makes you puke.”
“Why not? That worked fine for Fight Milk.”
Frank sighed and fixed Mac with the pained expression that always preceded of his endlessly unhelpful life lessons. “You gotta understand, products fill a certain niche in the market. Now, Fight Milk? That does a great job filling up the weight loss puking tonic niche, but I want Wolf Cola to be more than that.”
“All the more reason not to market it to Al Qaeda! It’s just gonna fill the old man niche.”
“Well who do you suggest we punt it out to?”
“I dunno. Al Shabaab? The PKK?”
Frank blinked. “I have no idea what those are.”
Mac was about to start explaining what he remembered about the Wikipedia articles he had read for market research the night before while rather desperately drunk, when a mighty crash sounded from our back. He and Frank looked at each other before scrambling to the back door.
“Charlie! I don’t know what you’re doing out there but I told you to get your ass to bed on time tonight. I’m sick of the smell of cat piss in the apartment when you stay up late playing in the alley.” Frank roared as they threw open the back door to the space behind the bar where the bins were kept. It was, apparently, deserted.
“Charlie?” Mac tried.
“Charlie! Here Charlie!”
“Oh, he’s such a good boy! Come in Charlie and I’ll give you a treat.”
It took them the best part of ten minutes to decide that Charlie definitely wasn’t out back. What was out back was an unseemly quantity of trash. Mac and Frank agreed to have Charlie run it all down to the dump in the morning.
“That’ll be good exercise for him.” Frank agreed as they drifted back in to the bar to further ruminate on their publicity issue.
The sun was way too bright for two o’clock in the afternoon when Frank crossed the police line to get back in to the bar. Not to mention noisy. The slug of whiskey he’d thrown in his morning coffee wasn’t doing the trick and he was starting to suspect that Charlie switched out the contents of the bottle with some weak shit like tea. Or gasoline.
“Alright Gang!” He bellows, loud enough to get their attention on even the most hungover of mornings. “Now Mac and I have been talking about new markets to expand in to with Wolf Cola. Maybe we’ll get a few more products on the book, we’ll see, not ruling anything out just yet.”
Pause for the inevitable scuffle. Some bullshit about how Frank is supposed to speak to all of them about these things, not just Mac, but the room is eerily quiet.
Not ‘no one home’ quiet but definitely not Gang levels of noise. It’s hard to tell through the blurry mess of his glasses, but everyone looks weirdly white. Not in a racial way, in a colour type way. Bunch of lily white pansy crackers. Weird.
“Sir, you need to leave the property.” One of them says. Tall. Skinny. Dennis?
“Don’t gimme that, Dennis.” Frank snaps. “What’s going on? And where’s Dee, I need a beer.”
“Sir, this is an active crime scene. I need you to leave now.”
Frank doesn’t have time to think his way out of this one before the fuzzy outline of what is definitely an officer, not a fake, appears in front of him. Frank knows exactly what a fake police uniform looks like. His wrists are cuffed in an instant and before he knows what’s what he’s being shoved in to the back of a police car.
“You can’t do this to me! I am the owner of that property.”
“We are aware.” The cop who cuffed him snaps from the front of the vehicle while his partner pulls away. “But sir, are you aware that a death was reported at your property this morning?”
“A death?” Frank leans forward. “What, did Dee finally off herself?”
“I’m not liberty to discuss the personal details of the deceased, but I’m sure you’ll be told everything when we get to the station.”
The station. Frank has done this dance enough times to know that he’s being brought in for questioning. He’s a pro at this shit. He nods enthusiastically and rattles off some bullshit about being keen to help with the investigation as far as he can. “I’m gonna need that phone call when we get there though. No way I’m doing this without that Jew lawyer lighting a fire under all your asses.”
“So where were you the night of the incident?”
“You mean last night? Oh I was like…at home. Doing…home stuff.”
“Can you define ‘home stuff’ for me, please, Mr Kelly?”
“What kind of stuff does any man do in his home, officer? I was…making beans. And…and…and…and I was definitely at home. But I didn’t sleep, in the bed, if that’s what’s confusing you.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t follow.”
“I was at home! What more do you want me to say? God, so many questions.”
“And no one can corroborate your story.”
“Does a man need a collaboration to be at home? Is that what this country has come to? You’re out here infringing on my freedom, big time.”
“Let’s move on. What was your relation to the deceased?”
“I don’t know anyone called Denise.”
“I mean Ms Ponderosa.”
“Oh. I mean, she was Dennis’s wife. Uh… She was kinda like a cat but not the noisy kind. I never had to put any mittens on her and she didn’t like it when I gave her cat food.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“She was all like…uh…like a human cat, y’know? If you know her, you’ll know.”
“Mr Kelly, Maureen Ponderosa is dead. You are being questioned in connection to her death which we have reason to believe may have occurred under suspicious circumstances.”
“Well, I don’t know much about cat law but I guess I can give this thing a shot.”
“Charlie didn’t come home last night, I was worried about him. I put a saucer of gasoline out in the corridor and everything.”
“He likes to clean shit up. You leave out something filthy and he comes swooping right in. You leave out something stinky and he’ll huff it. Gasoline is perfect for getting him back in the house.”
“So you had concerns as to his whereabouts?”
“Well yeah. Listen, Charlie’s a good kid but he’s not too bright. He can get himself in to real trouble if you let him wander off by himself.”
“You seem very concerned for his safety, yet you left him alone in your shared apartment for the evening. Why?”
“I mean he’s still an adult. I can’t watch his ungrateful ass all the time.”
“To the best of your knowledge, was he at all angry with Ms Ponderosa?”
“Who, Charlie? Nah. He probably forgot who she was till you brought him in this morning. Maybe you could get him on a manslaughter charge if he put the trash out on the roof or some shit for her to trip over but he didn’t have any reason to kill her. Unless she was dressed like Santa Clause. Or if she had been banging the waitress. Then it’s anyone’s guess.”
“We don’t believe the victim tripped.”
“Then it’s all good! Can I go now?”
“We still need to discuss your involvement in the incident. Now, sources place you at Paddy’s Pub last night at the time of the incident.”
“I already told you! I’m not having this conversation till my shuyster lawyer shows up. You got nothing on me anyway. Thank Christ Mac installed that security camera in the bar.”
“It’s our understanding that you are responsible for the CCTV system at the property in question.”
“That is correct. I am responsible for all aspects of safety and security at Paddy’s Pub. And you know, I’m always looking for ways to improve security. So one day I go into Dennis’s room-“
“You live with Mister Reynolds?”
“Ye- Yes! God! Don’t interrupt! Anyway, I’m in Dennis’s room and I’m thinking about maybe stealing some of the cash he keeps in his sock drawer. He thinks I don’t know but…I mean he’s way cooler than Dee but they’re still twins, they still do some shit the same. So I’m making a beeline for his dresser when I remember – the camera! If I take Dennis’s money, he’s gonna find out.”
“Are you suggesting that Mister Reynolds keeps CCTV running in his bedroom?”
“Well, not any more. Because I took the camera that he used and set it up in the bar. But until like two weeks ago, yeah.”
“Do you know what made Mister Reynolds so scared for his safety?”
“Safety? Dennis lives with me, he knows he never needs to worry about his safety.”
“Then why did he feel the need to record what was happening in his bedroom?”
“Oh! I see the confusion. You guys haven’t gotten round to interviewing Dennis yet. He likes to record his sexual exploits. Yeah, he’s got tapes and everything. Or he had tapes. I think he’s still rebuilding his collection after the fire.”
“There was a- No, wait. Mister MacDonald, I have a lot of questions about the conduct of yourself and Mister Reynolds but for now, I really have to get back to the issue at hand. CCTV shows that yourself and the senior Mister Reynolds were in the bar when Ms Ponderosa fell. Did you see anything suspicious or out of place that night?”
“You know, now that you mention it, Dee did leave in a rush.”
“Why would I kill Maureen Ponderosa?”
“No one is accusing you-“
“Blah, blah, blah. I don’t wanna hear it. I want a lawyer in here with me, goddammit. Why are you questioning me without a lawyer present?”
“We can call a public defender if you would like but they’re not going to be here before five.”
“Public defender? What happened to that lawyer I mentioned to you?”
“When we called his office we were informed he had no intention of representing you at this time or at any other time. In perpetuity, I believe was the phrase used. He also asked that I remind you of the restraining order he has against you which he feels would make representing you at this time somewhat difficult.”
“Stupid motherfucking goddamn no good Jew lawyer…”
“What? He’s Jewish and he’s a lawyer!”
“Miss Reynolds, we are still trying to establish your whereabouts last night between ten and two am. All you’ve been able to tell us is that you were home.”
“Well I was home!”
“No. No wait, I mean-“
“So there is someone who might be able to corroborate your alibi?”
“No! No, no, no. Definitely not. See, um, what I mean to say is…see, no one else was with me, but I had so many men trying to text and call that it really felt like I was…not alone.”
“You’re absolutely sure about that?”
“And if your phone was proving such a difficult issue, why did you not just turn it off?”
“Hey! Woah now, hey! I can’t just turn my phone off! What if my agent called with an incredible offer for me? I have to keep my phone on at all times.”
“What sort of jobs does your agent find for you?”
“Acting jobs. I’m an actress, obviously.”
“Yeah, but, uh, there were no job offers last night. Just lots of men. Just a disgusting number of men trying to call me.”
“Is it not true that you have had relations with the deceased’s brother, William, in the past?”
“William? I don’t remember a William. Don’t think I’d ever bang a guy named William. I mean what do you shorten that to? Willy? Gross.”
“I believe Mister Ponderosa is known as Bill to many of his friends.”
“Oh, Bill! Yes, Bill Ponderosa. Yeah we had sex a couple of times a few years back but I don’t really see how that’s relevant.”
“We need to know if the incident led to any friction between yourself and Ms Ponderosa, any lasting bad blood.”
“What, you think all women who’ve ever stood in the same room as a particular guy have to fight it out to be queen bitch? Get over yourself. I’ve spoken to Maureen like twice. Worst thing she ever did to me was sick up a hairball in the cubicle over when she came by to get her money off Dennis.”
“Officer, can I ask what this is about?”
“This is about an incident that occurred at your property last night.”
“Incident? What incident?”
“A person fell from the roof of Paddy’s Pub and was later found dead in the alley out back.”
“Oh my God. That’s awful!”
“Yes it is. We’re here today to hopefully rule out foul play. Are you happy for us to ask you a few questions?”
“Sure. Um…just to be clear, am I under arrest?”
“You are not, we’ve just brought you down here for questioning. You can leave at any time.”
“Do you want to leave?”
“No! No, officer, I want to cooperate. If there’s a killer out there I want to help you catch them as fast as possible.”
“Ok. Well let me start by asking where you were last night between ten and two.”
“Ten and two… I was mostly at this little diner across town – the Teflon. I’d been to see a friend and I decided to grab a cup of coffee on my way home. I can’t quite remember what time I left but they know me there, they can vouch for me.”
“And where did you go after that?”
“Home. I’d taken a cab over there while my car is in the shop but I decided to walk back. Must have taken about an hour.”
“That’s a long walk late at night.”
“Yeah well I’d just had a coffee. I needed to walk it off before bed.”
“I see. Now if you wouldn’t mind, can you tell me about the nature of your relationship with Maureen Ponderosa?”
“Maureen Ponder- Officer, the person who died, was that Maureen?”
“Yes, I- Steady Mister Reynolds. Do you need a tissue or….?”
The front door was open a crack when Dee got home which normally wouldn’t worry her but there was nothing like waiting around at the police station for three hours for a lawyer to show up, only to be told that she technically hadn’t been arrested and there was nothing a public defender could do for her, to sour her mood for the evening.
“Quiet! Shh! C’mon Dee you gotta keep your voice down or someone might hear us!” Charlie was sat on the sofa, covered in Cheeto dust. He knew he wasn’t supposed to eat anything messy away from the kitchen table and yet…
“Well, maybe I wouldn’t need to shout if you could stop being such an idiot all the God damn time!”
“What did I do now?”
Dee pointed towards the front door, now definitively closed. Charlie blinked at her, then at the door, then back at her. He shrugged.
Dee screamed and grabbed a fistful of hair that she was only maybe debating tearing out. “You always leave my door open when you let yourself in, asshole. Anyone could walk in after you.”
“Ok but no one ever does. Except you, and I think that’s ok because this is your apartment.”
“That’s not the point, Charlie. It’s a boundaries thing.”
“Hey, I can do boundaries, I can learn!” Charlie jumped up off the sofa and managed not to trip over the coffee table in his quest to rest his hands on Dee’s shoulders in what he probably thought was a comforting manner. It kind of worked. Dee could have done without the Cheeto dust on her tank top though.
“No!” She raised a finger to his face but didn’t move away. “No, you can’t, Charlie. That’s why you’ve been stalking that Waitress all these years and why you’re so comfortable sharing a bed with Frank.”
“In all fairness, I’m down to just an hour of Waitress time a day and I way prefer sharing a bed with you than Frank.”
It was almost sweet. Charlie fluctuated wildly between unutterably adorable and impossibly gross. Dee sighed and jerked her head towards the kitchen. “You want a drink?”
“Yeah! And hey, Dee, I was thinking we should probably talk about the thing at the police station and like…get our stories straight or something.”
“I really don’t want to talk about Maureen Ponderosa.” Dee moved through to kitchen and grabbed a couple of beers from the fridge. She was pretty sure that she hadn’t actually bought any beer in two weeks and was starting to suspect that Charlie was keeping her in stock. “I would rather do anything else.” Slight dip to her voice, suggestive glance at Charlie as she handed him his beer. She might not even bother bundling him into the shower before they got started if he played his cards right.
“No, I know. Me neither but the thing is that the police people asked me a lot of questions about where I was and I kinda…”
“Please tell me you lied.”
“Of course I lied! God. I wasn’t about to tell them that I was over here, I mean, what if Dennis and Mac decided to break into the police station and steal the records of those interviews? Or what if Frank bribed some police to tell him everything. Couldn’t risk it.” Charlie look a long swig of his beer. “No, I told them I was at home.”
“Same.” Dee nodded, taking a seat at the severely underused dining table she kept in her kitchen. “I told them I had loads of gentlemen admirers calling all evening. I think they bought it.”
Charlie’s eyes narrowed. “You did?”
“No…I mean…yeah? I’m sure I could, if I wanted to.”
“Oh so there’s something wrong with me and now you want lots of other men to come through here and pick up my sloppy seconds. I see how it is.” Charlie tipped back his head and proceeded to down the rest of his beer.
Dee stared at him, gobsmacked. “No, you idiot! I am not trying to have sex or go on dates with anyone other than you, for some reason. Which is more than I can say for you. An hour of Waitress time every day? Seriously? Am I not emotionally distant enough for you?”
“Oh you’re plenty emotionally distant.” Charlie belched. “Emotionally distant and getting chubby around the midriff.”
“Charlie!” Dee instinctively wrapped an arm around her stomach. She had packed on a few pounds in the last month but that didn’t mean she wanted anyone pointing it out to her.
“What? It’s the truth! Or am I supposed to lie everywhere these days rather than just at police stations like normal people?”
“Y’know what? I have no idea why you came over here today.” Dee snapped. “So why don’t you just head home to Frank and I’ll see you at work the same as any other morning.”
“Fine!” Charlie threw up his hands and narrowly avoided losing hold of the empty beer bottle. “Fine. I’ll go home, and on the way I’ll stop in and see the Waitress, and you can sit here and not have sex.”
“You’re also not gonna have sex, asshole!”
“I don’t care!” Charlie turned on his heel and marched out of Dee’s apartment, still holding the empty beer bottle.
Dee winced at the force with which he slammed the door. Everyone in the building was going to have heard that.
Turns out he was way behind on his research. When Charlie went down to the phone store on Rittenhouse Row, Waitress wasn’t there and the other clerks screamed at him to get out of the shop when he went in to ask about her. This wasn’t an unprecedented move. Rittenhouse was a bit above her usual standards, but it did set him back in terms of keeping up with her schedule. He’d have to get to her apartment bright and early the next day to find out where she was making her money now.
“What?” He snapped, picking up his phone which had been buzzing on and off all morning.
“Charlie!” Mac sounded far too happy on the other end of the line. “Hey, Pal. Listen. We had some more police come by this morning and you’ll never guess what they left.”
Charlie could sense a scheme coming on. He tidied up his stance, bringing his feet in together and trying not to scream down the phone. “What did they leave?”
“A whole bunch of tapes from those interviews they did of us.”
“Aww sweet! That’s really great actually because I was wondering how I did with that. I think I might have flunked but I’m kinda hoping that if I watch them over I’ll have aced them.”
Mac paused. “What?”
“The interview!” Charlie reminded him. Mac was so forgetful sometimes. “For the police people. I hope I did ok.”
“That’s not… Charlie, what did you think you were interviewing for?”
“Well I don’t know! Some sort of police job I guess.” Charlie let one of his arms start flopping around in the air in front of him, gesticulating in ways he hadn’t meant to let it do. The people on the pavement seemed a little alarmed by the movement. Fuckers. What business of theirs was it if he wanted to throw his limbs about the place? It’s a free country, limbs could go anywhere.
“God, you just-“ The phone line went very quiet for a minute and then Charlie heard the sound of Mac screaming “Charlie you are so goddamn stupid. Just get your ass down to the bar.”
“Yes, right now!”
“Ok well that’s gonna be a problem. Unless the teleporter has suddenly been invented.” Charlie had to stop and think about that one. He was pretty sure that no one had invented teleporters yet but you never could tell. “It hasn’t been invented, right?”
“No Charlie. No one has invented the teleporter yet. Goddamit. Where are you?”
“Why the fuck are you in Rittenhouse?” The sound of Macs fist hitting the top of the bar echoed down the line.
Charlie was faced with a major conundrum. His and Frank’s apartment was way closer to Paddy’s than Dee’s was and way further away from the sopping district. He had to lie. But Mac was crafty, and might wind up exposing his lie if he wasn’t careful. The last thing Charlie wanted was for Mac, Dennis or Frank to find out he had ever slept with Dee. He’d never hear the end of it.
“I…um…Waitress?” Charlie replied. It wasn’t till the words were out of his mouth that he realised he wasn’t lying. He really needed to reaffirm his dedication to his one true love.
“Right, yeah, of course.” Mac still sounded irritated but he no longer sounded actually angry. “Ok, just get here as fast as you can, please.”
“Sure thing, see you later.” Charlie let Mac hang up then pushed the phone back in to his pocket. He started to count the array of coins he had in there, trying to work out if he had the money to take the bus or if he should just hop on into the sewers.
The lens of the camera was an open black circle, an invitation in to emptiness. Hardly fair that didn’t have the good graces to open up and swallow the horrifically overweight pig who was working so hard to dig a non-confession out of him. All smiles and easy camaraderie. You see it sometimes when people are good at their jobs but have been n the force too long. Stagnation by association. He'd have to spend the better part of the evening ringing the image of the bad attempt at a buzzcut sitting atop tomato red cheeks from his mind. Ridiculous. This is how these things always worked – they took one look at his list of prior involvement in certain sensitive cases and made brash decisions based on those records. As far as the law was concerned he was perfectly blameless in every regard.
They’re trying to turn a trip into a homicide. They’re going to die trying. They really have to stop trying to see between the lines with these things. The questioning was one thing but this? Calling him back? 'The ex-husband did it' says the cop with no imagination.
Time ceased to mean anything as soon as he was alone, without an audience to perform to or prepare for he was stuck in limbo. The blank slate beige of the walls meant nothing to him, the cloying feeling of air getting stuck in his lungs as it recirculated this pathetic excuse for a basement office registered as little more than vague discomfort. He let himself fall into the deep dark hole of the camera lens and thought about Kerry Swan. Tomorrow was Saturday. He’d have to be out by then, for her.
“Mister Reynolds, you can go.”
He hadn’t even noticed the door open. The fire that burnt inside him, made manic and powerful by his rage, only lasted a second. He smiles and he simpers and he shakes the fat, fat, horribly disgustingly fat like Mac five years ago but worse fat cop’s hand and is on his way.
Plans to make, people to break. He thinks some of the female officers might be checking him out as he saunters out of the station. Good for them. He was a catch.
If he didn’t catch them first.
“What am I looking at?”
At Mac’s shoulder, Charlie was positively buzzing with that weird overwrought energy that filled him up to bursting anytime he did anything even slightly fun. You had to watch out for that, get in ahead of him or he’d start talking shit before you had time to sell the plan properly.
“It’s a documentary!” Charlie squawked.
“No way did you two bozos make a full on documentary.” That was Dee, at the bar, who Mac had almost managed to forget existed for five whole minutes.
“No, no. I’m intrigued.” Dennis nodded thoughtfully, eyeing up the tape Mac and Charlie had put their documentary on. Mac was more than a little worried that Dennis was going to recognise it as one of the tapes from his bedroom and take it back like he had taken the CCTV. “Now tell me, what is this documentary about?”
“It’s about you, dude.” Mac grinned at him. He was ready for Dennis to grin back at him but all he got was a slightly uncomfortable looking grimace. Dennis had been giving Mac a lot of those recently.
“It’s about like…you know…the human spirit. And you. Well, it’s not really about you. We kinda-“
“Charlie, would you shut the hell up?” Mac snapped. No one was going to ruin this for him.
Charlie turned round, mouth hanging open in the picture of distress. “Don’t tell me to shut up! This is my project too.”
“Then you know it’s a project about Dennis.”
“It’s a project about a horrible thing that happened at this very bar.”
“With Dennis at the centre.”
“Oh, so now Dennis is at the centre of this. At the centre of all this circumstantial evidence. I see how it is.”
“Yes, Charlie! That’s literally-“ Mac turned back to Dennis and smiled to let him know that everything was under control and perfectly safe. “You know what? Why don’t we just watch it.”
Dennis gestured towards the screen. “Please. I’m dying to see what I’m at the centre of.”
“Dude. You are going to love it.” Mac grinned, and popped in the video for the world premier of Dennis Reynolds: Serial Killer.
They’re on to him. Someone. Anyone. Everyone. All his exit strategies are more long term, they require the natural progression of something that he’s pretty sure he could make look like a normal life. A normal life for regular people.
He shudders beneath the dense layer of the hoodie he bought off a homeless man three blocks back. Dark blue, good for hiding in. The night closes it's arms around him and pulls him under, squirreling him away where the sounds of the expressway overhead can cover his footsteps. The gloves are bought new for the occasion, and he’s having trouble communicating how happy he is that Party City started selling Marigolds in black.
He shouldn’t really be here, not with all the heat beating down the back of his neck but screw it. He’s already put all the ground work in. And if he can’t come up with a good excuse to get out of town soon he’s going to have to go to the big house anyway, so he might as well have some fun before he gets there. He might as well arrive a legend, a God. They’ll catch up soon enough but it never hurts to lay the carpet down ahead of him.
Staring into the camera for two hours, unmoving. All that time he had taken to be here tonight and he went a ruined his own cover with something as stupid as that. Stupid idiot bastard man that he was.
Footsteps sounded up ahead, just ducking into the underpass. He could see the silhouette coming in too view, delicate and lithe. She had shoved her hair up under a beanie, not that the shadow of the underpass would have let him get a proper look in but every time he's imagined this there have been reams of blonde hair failing on the rain soaked ground. His fists tighten, wound tight and ready to go. Something to snap, something to tear. Something to calm him down.
There was to be no finesse in this. It was going to be brutal and bloody and he would leave the body in plain sight. And despite everything, when the smiling face of a dead girl appeared on the morning news, they still wouldn’t have any definitive evidence that he was to blame.
Headache. Bad. Very bad. And nausea. She’s probably not going to puke. Probably, But she could puke. She would probably feel better if she puked. But not here. Elsewhere. In the puke place.
“Charlie…” Dee groaned, rolling on to her back and recoiling when she tried to open her eyes. The room was very bright this morning. Which was weird, it’s not like she’d even drank that much the night before. Just a few beers. Normal stuff.
The sound of confused feet shuffling in from the living room, or of weight shifting on the other side of the mattress, was absent. Dee kicked against the covers. “Charlieee!!!!”
He’s gone. The stupid, irritatingly smart part of her brain that she tried not to engage without good cause piped up. Fuck that part of her brain, fuck her memories. So what if she kicked him out for being gross any annoying? He should still be here.
She should have some coffee. If she’s very good she can throw a slug of whiskey in there. Dee stumbled out of bed and was almost certainly very proud of herself for not falling back down immediately. Her stomach rolled and she gagged, but she was good at gagging and didn’t let anything slip.
After battling the urge to get dressed and go down to Starbucks, Dee made herself a cup of instant coffee and collapsed on the sofa. The tacky, bitter smell from her mug made her feel better and worse all at once, raising her nausea but promising to dash it just as soon as she could get the stuff down her throat. She didn’t realise that she’d forgotten the whiskey till she took a gulp, and by that stage she couldn’t be bothered to get back up to fix her mistake. She flicked on the TV and paused for a minute over the local news, because it pays to be informed but no one likes a know-it-all.
There was a picture of a pretty blonde girl smiling on the screen, and some douchebutt rattling off facts about her life in a dreadfully solemn tone. The bitch worked at a diner, she was young. Big whoop.
She was dead, which Dee supposed was kinda newsworthy, except that people died all the time. When Deandra Reynolds bit the dust, people were going to know about it, sure, but only because by the time she croaked she was going to be beloved in the land. A true superstar of unknown quantities.
The face on the screen was soft and carefree, a picture no doubt pulled from a high school yearbook or donated by family that wanted to see their little girl represented as the very best of herself in death. Dee tipped her head to the side and squinted. She almost looked like this girl, like this…Kerry Swan?
Who had apparently been found murdered. Well, that’s what you get for wandering around at night in South Philly. The news flicked briefly over to more mundane things – local traffic jams and the weather – and Dee’s interest waned fast. She was about to flip over to another channel, something with more Real Housewives than this bullshit, when she noticed the date in the top right hand corner.
Dee sat up very fast, spilling coffee down herself in the process. This time she thought she really would be sick. “Oh shit! Oh goddamit!”
The broad standing behind Dennis was a plot twist and a half, of that much Frank was sure. Well, the broad herself was to be expected, but the kid? That was gonna cause some problems.
“This is my son, Brian Jr.” Dennis announced to the bar.
Frank blinked between the kid, the woman and Dennis. This possibly made him a grandfather, which was possibly a problem, depending on how much he was expected to do. Him and Barbara used to leave Dennis and Dee with either of their parents whenever they could. A little bit of Nazism builds character, after all. If Frank got left with a baby though it would probably come back hooked on coke or some shit. Or with a contact STD. Maybe Artemis would know what to do.
A whole load of conversation was happening around him, none of which seemed to require his attention. He watched the woman and the baby walk out of the bar before turning to Dennis. “What the shit?”
Dennis looked terrified, which is exactly how all new fathers should look. “I gotta get out of this, you guys.”
No shit. Frank took a long sip of his beer. “You got that right, kid. If you work out how, let me know.”
All this talk of babies and their weird bonding powers had gotten Charlie thinking, and Charlie didn’t tend to do a whole lot of thinking so this was a big deal. He had drawn up charts, come up with a plan, made the apartment look all nice.
And it didn’t seem to be working. “Why me? Why not someone better?” The Waitress screamed at him. She must have lost another job, she always got like this when she lost a job. She just needed a minute to calm down and weigh up her options.
“Because there is no one better.” Charlie said. It wasn’t always the truth, but right now it felt true.
He thought about Mandy, holding the baby over Dennis’s head, using it to keep the two of them together. They could have that. They could use the baby like glue, glue that didn’t stink or make your brain go foggy. But maybe babies did make your brain go foggy, maybe that’s why everyone was so weird about them. Maybe you were supposed to huff babies.
These thoughts, all the thinking, occupied him all the way through the sex he supposed he better have with her. Sex was weird and sticky and kinda fun sometimes. It was fun with Dee, he decided, but she’d had time to practice what made it fun for him, the Waitress would get there.
“That was surprisingly good.” She said, laying on Frank’s side of the bed. Which was weird. They were going to need a new side of the bed if she was going to stay.
Surprisingly good. And then there was gonna be a baby. Any everything was going to be alright.
Everything was going to be alright. The small warm body in his hands was nothing, he kept waiting for some semblance of parental affection to hit him but it never came. The faint smell of formula milk was stuck to the kid like a limpet, and it did such a perfect impression of a rag doll when held you'd be forgiven for thinking someone had drugged it. He was stuck in a weird limbo between here and there. This little human, this pathetic nothing, could be dead in an instant if he so desired. Yet here he was, treating it nicely. Fatherhood was so arbitrary, Mandy was dumb as shit thinking that he had any greater right to the kid than anyone else. Just because he stuck his dick in her one time. She was lucky he’d let her get this far.
Police sirens sounded in the distance, the way they always did on this side of town. Someone was up to something, at all times. Someone was going down, someone was going to pay. Charlie had copied Mandy’s devious plan to get himself shackled to a woman for as long as they both should live.
How would that look, in a legal sense? A man leaves town to be with his kid. And maybe he leaves behind the records of the sexual misconduct cases that he was supposedly connected to but really, what does that matter if no one ever gets his name on the books for anything else? It wasn’t like he’d ever been formally charged with anything.
So he softened, slowed, clutched the baby to his chest and feigned reluctance when he had to hand him back. Everyone saw, they could go on record and testify if they wanted to. The affection was real, the love, whatever you want to call it.
The sun only had to be out for five minutes for the Paddy's trash pile to start to wreak, but only he ever seemed to notice. He'd like to call it off, but once you've stared into a camera for two hours straight without blinking you have to concede that you can pretty much do anything. The stains in the back alley were buried deep. You would have to work your ass off over a matter of years to get them out of the concrete, not that he’d know. The blood of the rats dragged out of the basement, of Cricket’s split lips and open wounds, of Maureen Ponderosa where she hit her head on the way down. It’s all there, along with who knows what else.
He looked up, into Mandy’s eyes, just to be sure. She wasn't pretty. She wasn't ugly either but she was older than his usual conquests. She'd lose it all in a year or too and if she was dumb enough to get pregnant again that would all be gone. Here she was decked out in frumpy cardigans with a ten dollar haircut and he was going to make her believe that he cared enough to spend the rest of his life with her.
He saw her change. He felt the gang ripple and role behind him. In his head he was already on a place to North Dakota, plotting his next move. He was sure they’d be diners with bathrooms in need of their own cracks in the wall there too.
“Charlie! Goddamit, Charlie, listen to me!”
“To her? After everything you said, how could you?”
“Oh so what, he finally talks you in to bed and five minutes later you’re all over him? Get over yourself, genius, we’ve been a thing on and off for years.”
“And you let him keep stalking me? That’s weird.”
“Hey, hey, hey! There’s nothing wrong about continuing to pursue a person when you already have a person. Dennis does it all the time!” Charlie held up his hands, trying to keep Dee and the Waitress on the other side of the room. It was hard, because this was Dee’s apartment so technically she was a Lord here and he was powerless to stop her doing what she wanted.
He was usually powerless against Dee, to be fair. Which was maybe why he sometimes liked her so much. She made everything easy.
“There’s actually a lot wrong with that.” Waitress said. She sounded so smug, her voice was so grating on the back of his skull. Charlie couldn’t understand how she had managed to turn into a shrieking harpy so quickly.
“I mean, Charlie was more of a booty call than anything but, ya know.” Dee shrugged.
Charlie took a deep breath and ran his hands through his hair. He kind of wanted to smash something, just to get himself back on track. He had already run through the obligatory considerations of his chances of escape and concluded that he was completely outmatched. Dee had closed the door when she came in and nightcrawlers hadn’t prepared him at all for making a quick getaway.
“Ok, ok.” He told himself. “Gotta…gotta be a man! Gotta face my mistakes head on and maybe fix a couple of them. Ok. Ok.”
“Charlie?” Dee frowned. “You ok?”
“Oh don’t start that shit.” Waitress snapped
Dee turned her attention away from Charlie in an instant. “What shit?”
“Don’t pretend to give a shit about him! We both know you don’t.”
“Oh, and you do? You know what? You really shouldn’t pretend that you know what’s going on with me. I never pretend to know what’s going on with you!”
“That’s a good point! Dee has been very honest up till now about how much she cares.” Charlie nodded.
Waitress’s eyes got all watery and gross, like they were trying to melt out of her face. Her nose was kind of turned up and piggy and she always seemed to be frowning. Charlie was starting to suspect she was a shapeshifter who had duped him into thinking she was beautiful for all these years. “Well, I don’t want to raise a child with someone who doesn’t prioritise my feelings so…” She paused to sob. “Charlie, I’m gonna go see a lawyer and I’m gonna draw up some papers and you’re gonna have to pay child support.”
“Hmm, I wouldn’t bank on that.” Dee shook her head. “He doesn’t make any money.”
“Well, I hardly see how that’s my problem.” Waitress let out another ugly sob and headed for the door, leaving her positive pregnancy test behind her. Gross. Dee was probably gonna make Charlie clean that up, it was all covered in pee after all.
“I don’t see why she doesn’t just get an abortion.” Dee said once the door had been resolutely slammed in both their faces. “Just seems like bad planning.”
“Yeah, I mean, I trapped her and all but she’s not a rat. She’s smart enough to get out of a trap.” Charlie agreed. He eyed up Dee’s positive pregnancy test, sat next to Waitress’s on the table. She seemed very sure that the kid was his, which was a problem as he had never wanted to trap her. He always seemed to get her without needing to try all that hard. “So, uh… are you gonna get an abortion?”
“Oh no.” Dee shook her head super-fast. “No way, Jose.”
“Well I hate to break it to you Dee but I don’t think I can pay you child support either. But maybe Frank can? Is that weird? Having your not dad pay you child support on behalf of your kind of brother?”
“Never refer to yourself as my brother again.” Dee said, sharply. “And no, this isn’t a child support thing. I’m thinking that we could get this kid set up for adoption with some super wealthy couple, vanish off the scene for eighteen years then show back up when they reach majority and feed the kid some sob story about how they were stolen from us to get some money out of them.”
“Yes, we!” Dee grinned. “You and me, Charlie. We’re gonnna run this scam together. Just us. None of the rest of the Gang.”
Having a whole thing that didn’t involve Frank or Dennis or Mac did sound nice. Though Charlie supposed he wouldn’t be having much to do with Dennis anymore. He smiled slowly. “Yeah. Yeah, Dee, that sounds great.”
“I know, right? And can you imagine Mac’s face when I tell him I’m not getting an abortion?”
Charlie didn’t really understand why that would be exciting, but he liked the idea of forgetting about something for eighteen years only to restart the scheme. It sounded like a time capsule, only with a better pay out at the other end.