Today I conquered a bad case of self-doubt that led quick to a chronic case of wild procrastination.
I got out of bed early enough to don my authorial uniform; but I dawdled over breakfast; tuned in to election coverage — which always bores the hell out of me –; scratched my head a lot and rubbed my hands up and down along my whiskered cheeks; picked up a book I couldn’t bear to read; and wondered where my bad novel might want to take me, if anywhere at all.
A hot shower helped, but not enough to spur me into tapping action. Fate offered me an accidental, but noble excuse to put off setting butt to chair for just a while longer.
New neighbors down the street from where I live own two whippets. Gorgeous canine creatures, friendly to a fault with human beings, racers who run up to forty-five miles per hour on a track. They own just one enemy, cats. I live with a Siamese cat. I love her. We hold peaceful conversations whenever one or both us feels lonely.
This past summer the whippets got loose from the neighbors’ yard and attacked my baby Kiku. Crushed her. Twisted her body into a maze of all but impossible angles. I yelled at the whippets so loud that the entire neighborhood now knows the power of my old man’s lungs. The whippets ran away. I drove Kiku to the vet. Somehow she survived the broken ribs and additional internal damage to vital organs.
My relationship with my new neighbors did not survive.
So this morning, as I lay and pondered plot, I heard the whippet barking. To cut this story short, before this entry weighs more than the paragraphs of my novel I composed later on, I climbed a cinder-block wall and found my cat trembling and whimpering, “Those fucking whippets again, Pop.”
Of course, my superhero antics required that I spend further time congratulating myself and accepting my feline companion’s praise.
I reached the keyboard by nine-thirty in the morning, a spinach and goat cheese pizza by my side.
Late to begin, but I won.
Here’s an excerpt. As Wladziu Valentino Liberace oftentimes proclaimed, “I ain’t good, but I got guts.”
Tap, tap, tap. High heels thin as pins hitting the wooden stairs. This time she took up more than the edge of the chair when she sat down and crossed those gorgeous legs.
“So why’dya ask me to find your brother?”
“That’s a stupid question.”
“I’m not a stupid man. So if you’re not going to surrender the truth, then I’ll tell you the story. Carl told you exactly where he was going when he left Jasper. Problem was that he landed in a different spot, all drunk and drugged and loved by some girls he can’t remember. You know, what, LunaMae? You might have tried the hospitals and the morgues without my help, but you didn’t need to, cause I’m just a cover for you. But you won’t get away with it. None of it. Cause I know Hans and I know Thugsby, and Hans he ain’t the muscle, but he’s got no patience and he’s over the sexual hill, so to speak, so he ain’t none interested in flirting with the likes of you. And Thugsby? The mug would just as soon cold cock a lady as a man. You’re walking on dangerous ground here in Atlantic City. All’s not cotton candy and amusement rides.”
“You made your point. Yes, Mr. Tarlow. You obviously perform your job well. Yes, I knew where Carl was supposed to be. And what’s that you said I used you as, a front?”
“A cover. A dupe. A scape. It’s all the same.”
“Well, all right then. What do you expect me to say? I need you? Because you already know that, too.”
“Because of the dead guys your boozing brother leaves in his wake, right?”
“Carl’s a lot of bad things, Mr. Tarlow, and he’s got reason to be all of them. But he’s not a killer.”
“So now we’re getting somewhere. Should I take a trip to Jasper,Indiana and meet up with your mom?”
“Leave my mother out of this.”
“So it’s the preacher I should be looking for. Holy Daddy.”
“I’m leaving now.”
“So long, toots.”
Tarlow watched her rump pumping as she huffed her way toward the door. “Hey, can I get a phone number now?” he called after her. “Carl’s a bad liar. The joint over on Bindsford has a line; I checked that out with the phone company. But they won’t give me the number, and you have to give it to me if you want to pursue this matter before Hans and Thugsby pursue the two of you into a corner you can’t escape.”
She spun around like a buxom ballerina, grabbed a pencil and pad from the desk and scribbled down the seven-digit number. Then she left the office.
Tarlow wondered how she managed to balance all that beauty while walking on stilts.
He flipped the on switch of the hot plate he kept on the bay-window shelf, set a small pot of water to boil and tossed two teaspoons’ worth of Chase & Sanborn instant coffee into his seasoned mug. He twisted the jar’s red lid back into place, read the label and smiled to himself. “Full-bodied.”
As he blew away the cloud of steam and sipped, rain began to patter against the office’s window. Tarlow stared at the orange neon sign, twisted into the shape of a key, that hung from the locksmith’s shop across the street. He squinted and the blurred haze of light came into focus.
Maybe a walk in the rain will clear me up, as well, he thought. He tugged his hat onto his head, the brim down low enough to hide his eyes, and headed down Arctic Avenue.
At the intersection of Arctic and Georgia he turned left. Chickens clucked and strutted down narrow alleys that smelled of garlic and sweat and garbage. The Italian immigrants who lived in the neighborhood didn’t seem to care much who owned which bird, so long as all of the beasts laid scrambled eggs for a workman’s breakfast and grew fat enough for Sunday dinner plucking.
Pacific Avenue was almost quiet at this time of night. A few tourists hailed jitneys, their drivers familiar with each and every sleazy motel’s location. Two bits a ride, no matter how long or short the distance from here to wherever.
At New York Avenue Tarlow turned right and headed for the four-lane main drag, Atlantic Avenue. A twenty-minute walk through the rain and he arrived at Horn & Hardart’s Automat Restaurant. Tarlow loved the place. No waitresses. No dining boothes. Just the company of a vast and hollow room filled with the chatter of strangers.
Tarlow pulled a few quarters from his pocket as he approached the wall of rectangular windows. Behind each pane of glass was a plate of food. Corned beef sandwiches on rye with cole slaw and Russian dressing. Ceramic cups piled high with the place’s famous rice pudding. Salads and soggy vegetables. Tarlow slipped one coin into a slot and pulled out a large slice of coconut custard pie. From another tiny compartment he slipped out a cup and saucer that held a packet of instant coffee.
He took his food to a Formica-topped table near the grand picture window that faced Atlantic Avenue. He ate slowly and felt the rainstorm building inside his head.