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Archive for October, 2009

The Black Kitten, Part 1

But first, a warning.  Last night at my mystery book club, we discussed Cornell Woolrich’s novel The Black Angel, and we started riffing on the title and the noir genre.  We came up with a lot of goofy titles for noir novels, including, the horribly un-noir “The Black Kitten.”  I kept thinking about this, and by the time we had arrived home late last night, I had more or less written the first chapter in my head.  So, what follows is some trashy neo-noir.  Though the title is silly, I am taking the genre seriously, and it will be sordid, disgusting, and offensive.  If that sort of thing makes you feel uncomfortable, move your cursor up to the browser and click to go to another page.  If, on the other hand, you like noir, feel comfortable with its conventions, and don’t mind a story filled with characters you would not invite home, then read on.

I knew he was a gold-plated bastard even before he offered me the job, although it’s closer to the truth to say he just flat-out told me I was working for him.  Up here in northern Connecticut we see his type often enough, and you might say I’m just writing down a bunch of cliches right now, but even cliches have some truth.  This is the land of the second home, the big horse ranch for some financial type who wants to pretend to be a lord of the manor or play farmer for a weekend and then go back to doing whatever these rich assholes do during the work week.  The guy usually shows up in his big Mercedes, with his shellacked silver hair and a much younger trophy wife, a slim blonde bitch goddess with designer tits.

The only damned thing I remember my high school history teacher telling us as we sat in his overheated classroom, bored out of our skulls, was that the named of our town was the same name given to the promised land in the Bible.  I don’t know why god promised our town to these rich guys from New York City, but he apparently did, leaving us locals to wade knee-deep in horse shit, mucking out the fancy stalls–nicer places than some of us lived, actually–or plant a huge crop of blisters on our hands, heaving rocks to make sure the stone walls around the Lord’s Manor had the right ye olde New England look to it.  I’ve done all that and more.  I’ll plow your goddamn driveway, trim your goddamn trees, or fish a ton of soggy maple leaves out of your goddamn swimming pool.  Lately, though, I’ve had indoor work, courtesy–I guess that’s the right word–courtesy of this gold-plated bastard to beat all gold-plated bastards.

But Mr. Rich–yes, that’s his name, Mr. Paul Rich, and god have mercy on your soul if you ever forget that “Mr.”  Mr. Rich didn’t show up the usual way, or with the usual female company.  Instead, one day in the middle of the week he just appeared at The White Lily, the hoity-toity inn in front of the green in the center of town, with a pile of expensive luggage and his little wisp of a daughter in tow.  She was about thirteen, looked eight, and had a shy quiet smile that made you wonder just what kind of woman her mother was, because she sure as hell didn’t get that from her bastard of a father.  My own daughter would have been her age, so I took a liking to this little one despite, or probably because her old man was such a louse.  And her name?  I remember reading in my ex-wife’s People magazine some of the ridiculous names celebrities and other rich assholes load on their poor kids, things like Apple.  Seriously, Apple.  What kind of parent names her kid Apple?  Anyway, Mr. Rich’s little wisp of a daughter was called Tempest, and if ever a name didn’t fit a kid, this was the time.  When I heard her name, I went home and looked it up.  Turns out a tempest is a storm, and this little girl was definitely not a storm, unless..but I’m getting ahead of my story here.

A couple days after Mr. Rich showed up in our fair town, I was in Will’s Tavern, out on Route 42 south of the green.  It’s definitely a locals kind of place, a big red barn with a wide gravel parking lot and neon beer signs in the windows.  The rich bastards don’t much like the place because it spoils their lord of the manor fantasies, but as far as the locals are concerned, these guys can just pound sand.  It must have been about 7 o’clock or so when Mr. Rich walked in to the bar.  The place didn’t go quiet like in the movies, but you could feel a little shiver go through the room when people looked up and noticed him standing there.  He looked like he didn’t belong, and I got the feeling that Mr. Rich doesn’t like to look that way.  he belongs wherever he is, and that’s that.

Mr. Rich is a tall man, with short-cropped silver hair and a short, neat beared.  He is very slim, with sharp, jutting cheekbones and eyebrows and thin lip.  He was wearing a suit that night, which may have been part of the reason he looked like he didn’t belong, but there was more to it than that.  The suit was neatly tailored–even I could tell that–with sharp creases that hung gracefully on his frame.  The man looked like a walking knife–all silver and sharp.

He walked up to the bar and took the stool next to me.  The bartender, a good guy named Marlowe, was there immediately and asked him what he wanted.  Marlowe looked nervous, though, and you could tell he was wondering what the hell this guy wanted in his bar.  He was worried that this obviously rich guy would want something he didn’t have, some fancy brand of scotch or something like that.  Mr. Rich didn’t, though.  He ordered a Sam Adams on tap and drank down half of it right away before setting the glass down on the bar.  He turned around on his stool so he could look out at the crowd, which was a little thin for a Friday night.

He turned to me and looked me up and down.  It was a creepy look that made me feel like he had undressed me, looked me over, and found me wanting.  It wasn’t a sexual thing, though.  It felt more like a butcher looking over a hog he’s about to bleed out.

Now, I’m not your shrinking violet type.  My ex used to call me her tough little caveman back when she still had some nice things to say to me.  I’m not tall, but I’m broad and muscular.  Not muscular in the pansy body builder way, but filled out with honest muscle from hauling rocks and digging ditches and doing real work. Still, having this guy look me over like that made me nervous, and I must have sat up a little straighter on the stool and puffed myself out to make my muscles look bigger.

“You’re a tough, hairy little fuck, aren’t you?”  Mr. Rich said in my general direction.

It wasn’t quite clear that he was talking to me, so I thought about letting it slide.  SInce I was really the only tough, hairy little guy there, though, I figured it wouldn’t do to let it slide, so I said, “What’s it to you?”  Not the most clever line in the woerld, I’ll admit, but those guys in movies with the snappy comebacks all have some asshole write out their lines for them in advance.

“I’m looking for a tough customer,” Mr. Rich went on.

“Sorry, guy.  I don’t swing that way.”  I knew he wasn’t coming on to me, and I also knew that making such an accusation could get me a punch in the face, but I was frankly looking for some sort of dust-up.  It had been a bad week.

He didn’t get mad, though.  He laughed and said, “You always talk to strangers that way?”

“You always call strangers hairy little fucks?” I shot back.  I thought that was pretty clever, considering.

He turned and looked me right in the eye for the first time, and I got my first glimpse of what kind of guy I was dealing with.  Not just a gold-plated bastard, but solid, all the way through.  I felt a little uneasy, and my gut started to churn.

“I call it as I see it.”  He leaned in closer and spoke in a low, menacing voice.  “You need to learn your place, Mr. Little Hairy Fuck.  You need to know when you’re talking to someone who can make a difference in that miserable pile of shit you call your life.”

I had had enough of this rich bastard coming into my bar, my place, the place where all of us locals go to get away from teh rich bastards, and calling me names.  “All right,” I said, “let’s take this outside.”  I got up and walked to the door, not even looking back to see if he was following.  I pushed the door open, hard, and stomped out into the dusty parking lot.

When I turned around, he was right there, which I have to admit did surprise me a little.  Not that much, though, because I had started to see that this guy was someone used to kicking people around.

I took one step closer to him, my hands balled into fists.  For the past two months, I had been rebuilding a stone wall along one of the estates, so my hands were as strong and tough as they could get, with calluses on top of calluses.  I knew that all I need to do was connect once, and this guy, tough or not, was going to wake up in the emergency room.

The next thing I knew, I was staring at the sky, which was spinning around in a crazy way, making me feel sick to my stomach.  I could feel something trickling down my face, and I guessed it was probably blood.  I closed my eyes and when I opened them that bastard was standing over me, smiling.  It was not a friendly smile, but it was not really menacing, either.  It seemed to say, “All right, then.  I’ve put you in your place, so now let’s talk.”

“You’re working for me now,” he said.  He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small card, which he dropped on my chest.  “This is my cell phone number.  Call me tomorrow morning at eight.”  He leaned closer and looked into my eyes.  “Better make that eight-thirty.  Don’t make me wait.”  He turned and walked away.

And that is how I became employed by Mr. Paul Rich, solid gold bastard.

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