Don't Mention the Princess - The Saul Cross Diaries

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic


Part one of ten - The Saul Cross Diaries Saul Cross is a journalist on the hunt for a scoop. With his apprentice, Carmen, they journey through the underworld of 1950's LA to discover who is really
responsible for the recent spate of murders that has left certain societies in the city running scared. Can Saul overcome his Jewish heritage, love torn heart and a fatal friendship with his
mysterious friend Old Fitz to reveal the murderer's true identity? Or will his past return to throw all he knows into obscurity? Foreword by the author.

Submitted: March 31, 2018

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Submitted: March 31, 2018

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I have regularly and readily considered what it may be like to be considered ‘great’ in this life. What is it that sets people apart from those who fade into obscurity? If we simply take the British royal family; there are very few who could name all without support, but I am sure we can all name the ‘greats’: Elizabeth I, Henry VIII, Victoria and William the Conqueror. So, what is it about these people that deemed them worthy of committal to the long-term recesses of our memory over hundreds of years of royal succession?

Let us take another, less culturally specific example. If we consider rulers who made a lasting impact on the annals of history we can look no further than Hitler, Stalin, Rameses II, Genghis Kahn and Julius Caesar. These were evil, wretched, and with hindsight despised characters, yet we remember their names, and children are introduced to them from a very early age all the same. Why, this phenomenon is not simply reserved to leaders, even in Britain the domestic terrorist Guy Fawkes has a day dedicated to his legend. Very few of our great historical figures have many, or indeed any redeeming and aspirational qualities, so then what is it that carved them into the stones of time?

The answer is an unwavering, unrelenting strength and resolve. For many of them it would eventually be their downfall, yet in the intervening years between idea conception and downfall none of the previously considered gave up on their desires, leaving them with a legacy too strong to be weathered into nothingness.

Much is the same for the protagonist of our tales. He was once a pillar of strength standing resolutely in the Hollywood twilight which eventually proved to be his downfall. Yet unlike those we have discussed, you may never have heard his name. The legacy he created and the strength he displayed, however, far outweigh any the aforementioned figures were capable of. He asked me to pen his tales upon his demise straight from his diary. I have done just that, perhaps tidying up the language, spelling grammar in places at my discretion, but I assure you all happened exactly as is described. I have not changed the content, and on that, I fear we will just have to trust each other.

 

The author, 1988

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Saul Cross Diaries

 

1 of 10 - Don’t Mention the Princess

 

Stepping out onto the corner of West Pico Boulevard and 18th I pulled up the collar on my trench coat to shelter my suit from the torrent that angled itself out towards the Pacific, covering all in its path with a sheen of diluted misery and the inevitable self-indulgent shivers when one could eventually find cover. For me though, it simply meant splashing the two blocks to the chemist to get my regular midday chaser.

The shop fronts provided pretty good cover until I had to turn and face the downpour head on. The shards of glass skipped across my cheeks but as numbness set in I resolutely strode towards the safety of habit and routine. Pushing open the heavy, glass swing door I strode in with the air of confidence one attains from years of chasing neat fingers of moonshine over ice. The clerk behind the counter greeted me with a knowing grin. That instantly put my back up. I know I'm a mess, but how did this clown figure it out so quick? I had to think and think fast. Was it worth the humiliation of parking myself on a stool and confirming this guy's suspicions, or should I make my excuses and back out, tail between my legs?

His pale eyes scanned me, narrow buttonhole slits cast over my attire and movements. He had the crooked nose of a fighter, but the pointed chin of a money lender. Trying to piece him together would be one of the hardest things I would do all day. So many pieces missing, and some with connections that simply didn't look like they should go. Having been frozen for a good ten seconds in a dual of mutual scrutiny I stepped purposefully towards the counter and a black seated, leather stool with a backrest. This guy wanted his customers to forget this wasn’t their home.

‘What’ll it be?’ His voice sounded like gravel being panned for gold. A high pitched, scratch of a voice that set one’s jaw out of place and teeth on edge. I responded with a simple nod towards the jar of America’s best sat high above the counter and grunted something in the way of approval. Whether he noticed my derision or not, whether he cared or not, he didn’t let on one bit. This guy was a pro. He clearly was used to sucking every last dime out of the local carousers without ever cracking wise or flashing a sneer; so why did this guy piss me off so much?

Contempt welling up from within me, I turned my gaze to the other inhabitants of this liquid whore house. Three men perched atop their pedestals all nursing differing glasses with a variety of coloured liquids, but all with a similar purpose; the removal from where they were and supplanting to a place where they felt nothing and cared even less. Take this guy sat three stools down from me. Now here was a guy I was sure would have an education, his newspaper belied his blue-collar attire. Sorry bud, the overalls ain’t fooling anyone; you fucked up and I noticed. I’m just that much of an asshole. If I wasn’t Jewish and didn’t look like I was Jewish I would have bothered him about it, but no amount of war or genocide are going to get the working man to look on the kike who learned to read. He was probably a divorcee, probably a resident of a dingy bedsit and definitely on a pauper’s wage. His face intrigued me though. Lines carved through it like meanders on a river and the more I looked, the deeper my glare, the more tragic his story appeared.

Lighting a cigarette, I turned my attention to the other two men who were sat together at the far end of the dark oak counter. The lighting was barely sufficient to make out their features, but through the gloom, I was able to glimpse two thick, dark moving rapidly in the rhythm of what appeared to be a very heated discussion. Much like their features though, their words were lost in the haze that seemed to visibly linger above the counter shrouding all that surrounded it in a musty fog that obscured the reality of the present. Whether this was an intentional ploy by the owner. a happy coincidence or the result of years of stifling human failure I would never know, but whatever it was, it made me sit up straight and pretend I was in there on official business and not the frequenter the server pegged me as the second I walked through the door.

‘How much?’ I spluttered, rounding on the pimp behind the bar. The puzzle of the man with the paper and the duo fell into obscurity and I was back to my initial objective. ‘You keep telling those sorta jokes you’ll be a star kiddo!’ But it wasn’t a joke. In fact, as close to poverty as my new friends should have been living, they certainly must have been getting danger money or something to be able to afford these prices and put up with this comic. I could barely stomach it myself.

I sighed and lit another cigarette; or two; having one constantly between my fingers or dragging between my lips I can never recall exactly where one finished and the other began. I resigned myself to my fate and at these prices I should have taken my time, the flavours and enjoyed the warm caress, but I didn't want to give this criminal the satisfaction of knowing he'd bent me double and left me gaping and screaming. So, I necked it like a good pup, staring deep into his eyes, left the bills on the counter from the inside lining of my charcoal three-piece and vacated the premises before I became anyone else's bitch. That was not my job today. In fact, that was rarely my job any days now.

in the chemists too long, but the weather had improved somewhat. Standing water careered down the fresh tarmac and announced every footstep with a delicate sprinkle of droplets that sang in the now crisp, refreshing air. I was glad for the booze, and the smoky tobacco fire under my nose; despite my best efforts the rain had pierced my clothing and I was a damp pup, as well as a well-trained one.

I still get shocked about the poverty that surrounds me as I walk through LA. Rich, white men in high places would have you believe this period in human history is actually a boom, and we are the well-placed recipients of the rest of the global economy fucking itself bloody. I mean, we dragged our feet, didn’t we? While the rest of the world broke we closed ranks and shut the door, like bed stores to the homeless. You know help is needed, but goddamit if you’re going to be the one to throw your doors open to the ragtag types that couldn’t get their shit in order. They should have known better.

Maybe I'm a pessimist. Maybe I'm a communist. Who knows? All I know is that the picture that these eyes see when walking the is unheard of to anyone over the age of forty. Supposedly slavery was abolished, to me, it appears that it was simply replaced by a lifetime of servitude to stuff instead of people.

Fortunately, it was servitude that got me out of the house today but of a much more sinister kind. It appears that the world's oldest profession has also become one of the most dangerous. It's been sort of ironic to see old Madams in the paper bitching about the number of girls they've lost, but it was now becoming a bit of an epidemic. Three streetwalkers had gone missing over the past month, and while none of these girls have shown up, five others have returned their bodies to the morgue for their last naked performance. I'd been on the heels of the case ever since the first stiff dames started arriving in the backs of the coroner's vans; you always pick up a good story stalking those guys. Some like to tap into police radio, or use informants. Not me, you want a story? Follow the coroner, that guy knows how to party, and how to deliver a scoop.

I knew what his movements would be, so I dragged my heels down 18th Street searching for a suitable lookout spot. Now, I'm not an idiot, I had scoped the place out before, but this damn city is becoming so dense and overcrowded that you never know what might have been demolished or erected from day to day. The sheer volume of vehicles parading around is enough to turn a good stakeout spot into an area so blind even your own mother (who let's face it had eyes in the back of her head, where do they learn that?) wouldn't be able to identify you. And today was all about identification. I had to get a face to this sleazebag.

Looking to the left I spotted a solid looking cluster of bushes surrounded by some palm trees. The added shade made the bushy cavern a suitable spot for my task. I pulled my jacket up and around every visible bit of skin as I ducked through into the bush, I had completely forgotten about the rain and instantly regretted my choice as torrents seeped through the material and down my back. If I had to leave this place with no story and fucking pneumonia, I swore to God I would start killing prostitutes myself in retribution. I pulled out my Duaflex III camera and got myself game ready. The machine felt cold but solid in my hands, the extension of me that creates the anticipation. One great shot could break this sucker and I needed to be the sucker who broke it.

Ten minutes passed, although with that level of anticipation, adrenaline and bitter chill it felt like an hour. Apart from the odd car passing down the street, and the occasional resident pottering about their everyday insignificance the street was quiet. I wasn't sure if this was a good sign or not. As I busied myself designing strange patterns in the clouds to while away the monotony a low rumble became a tremble through the pavement, then slowing to a violent hum before cutting completely. I readied myself for the moment. A small whine of partially rusted hinges caught my ear, a door, the trunk? Following the whine was a pattern of stumbling bare feet on the tarmac. The clumsy slap of skin on that cut through the silence and set my hair on end. Mustering all I knew about stealth and holding my breath for dear life I pierced the damp foliage with the camera ready for the snap.

girl, and I use that word intentionally here, could not have been more than a tender seventeen. She had light brunette hair that cascaded down her back eloquently yet seductively, like a drawstring curtain waiting for the big reveal. She was propped up by a large, jacketed arm and her knees were failing her. He dropped his arm making a low grunting noise and she clumsily fell to the floor. It was when her head bounced off the tarmac without even flinching that I knew she was the latest victim. Had I arrived too late? Or just in time? The pull of these questions nearly ensured I missed the key moment as he briefly turned to stoop and scoop her up now with two muscular arms and raised her to his chest. He carried her like a groom carries a bride across the threshold. He had made another eternal wife for himself.

I managed to fire off three shots that I hoped would capture his face clearly enough with her limp, scantily clad, vandalised body before he pivoted calmly and strode towards the door with his latest new resident. Droplets fell across my cheeks as I stared after them, willing myself to challenge and slay the monster myself, saving the villagers from any more medieval dismay. This thought was, however, fleeting as I steeled myself, wiped the assumed rain from the corners of my eyes and backed out of the bush. I spilled my breakfast out all over some poor resident's front lawn, cowered over my knees and let out a slow, anxious growl. Must have been something I digested disagreeing with me. The sight of a young girl, slaughtered engaging in an activity she would almost certainly have been forced into by need? No, I'm sure it was just the turned milk I stirred into my porridge. I'm sure it was. It was a long yet dazed walk back the nine blocks to the diner that I had agreed to meet Carmen to discuss what had happened. My feet, glistening with diamond drops of rainwater on a background on polished leather, carried me gracefully through the streets but I was completely unaware of space and time during this voyage. My mind was too busy trying to process what had just happened, or more to the point, trying to suppress it completely. I was convinced it must have been a misunderstanding, I had gotten carried away and the adrenaline had shown me things that weren't really there and when I developed the photos I would see a lively young lady being carried into her new marital home by a loving husband. That would be particularly frustrating as I would have to file common interest fluff pieces that week instead of the drama-soaked murder mystery I was hoping to pen, but at least she would be safe.

That thud though. The way her head bounced off the sidewalk without a flinch or a groan. There are some things, once you see them, you cannot unsee. I have been assured childbirth is much like that, which is why men who insist on staying through the torrid affair are restricted to the head area, otherwise I'm convinced every new mother would instantly be a spinster. I guess this was much like that. Her eyes, lifeless and soulless would remain burned into my conscious for eternity; that was unless I drank myself to oblivion and killed just enough memory to forget it.

I paused outside the diner. I hadn't had time to rehearse my lines or the face I would display to Carmen when I walked through the door. How could I share with my eager intern, my doting trainee that I had been such a coward? That wasn't true, was it? Surely not. I had been pragmatic and self-preserving, everything biology says I should be. That's it. It was biology's fault. You can't ignore millions of years of evolution, much like you can't ignore a murderer who has just dragged a young girl's body from the trunk of a car to the house in broad daylight without even the slightest hesitation. That wasn't what I had done. It wasn't.

Crossing the threshold into the diner my senses were suddenly sent into overdrive. This place was entirely too bright, too noisy, too full and my god it stank. I leant against one of the cool tiled red and white walls to see if it was actually possible to strip the grease from it. Luckily, this one appeared to have been stripped prior to my arrival, which only meant the others were so saturated you could skip the food and dine out on them. That must have been the cause of the smell. Glancing across a sea of gibbering faces I caught one of real beauty occupying a booth in the far corner well out of the way of any doors. She had auburn hair tied in a neat bun wrapped in black ribbon; if I had to guess that when she let it down her shoulders would be completely eclipsed. At that moment I longed to tug the ribbon to see the elegant way it would fall and closed my eyes to imagine the way she would seductively shake it out to show how long and flowing it was. Re-entering reality I noticed the emeralds that dazzled her face. They caught the artificial lighting and reflected it back revealing two wide eyes that caught sight of all and could melt any man with a few quick flutters. She had finished off this well planned and highly intricate artwork with rose-red lipstick, you could have been blind for your entire life and know that this was true beauty with your first sight.

I strode confidently over and slipped into the seat opposite her, forgetting to announce my arrival or how to speak for that matter. Moments passed in silence as we read each other from across the table before she ruined the illusion by opening her mouth.

'I've ordered a milkshake, I'm always suspicious of these places, but it’s the law isn't it?' A grin spread across her lips, a little flirtatious smile I had seen before on many different women, but on this one it appeared deadly rather than simply disingenuous.

'What the fuck are you talking about? Clam it. Remember who's the trousers in this little fiasco.' I had never left elementary school it appeared, the idea of pushing her down and pulling her pigtails was the only way I was ever going to win with this one. Sure, some might have said it was old-fashioned and lacked romance, but from my experience women are undeserving of that anyway, a backhand and a vicious tongue are all they understand. The grin didn't diminish at all, in fact, it grew into a pained smile, the one that holds a person back from laughing in your face.

'You're right. Of course, you're right,' she said regaining her composure through deep breaths. 'So, what did you get?' The passion she was radiating with her attire had fully retired now, she was business; the way I understood her.

'He got another one C. A young girl, barely eighteen by all accounts. Carried her around in broad daylight like his prize from a hunt, I wouldn't be surprised if the sick fuck had her head mounted along with the others.' I had been so focussed on the initial exchanges and then recalling the tale that I forgot about the cigarette pressed between my lips that preceded to drop hot ash onto my trousers. I summoned the anger and energy I had left to stub it into a fine pulp while her big green eyes scanned me sympathetically.

'Saul...I...' her voice fell into a distant, uncertain knot that she couldn't seem to unravel. The facade was broken. I had my intern back; the mirage of the temptress had shattered under the weight of my burden. 'Did you, I mean to say, was there a chance to, no, was it safe to intervene?' She was clearly reeling and I wasn't about to let her off the hook yet. I fixed my eyes on hers ready to duel and my jaw bone started to clench. My body stiffened as I got ready to hurl the whole gritty account at her, really juicing the fact I was there while she was in comfort, dolling up ready to play games with me. But those eyes, slowly filling with crystal tears. The straightjacket that was holding and tensing my body was released and I melted back into the chair silently weeping.

'I froze C. I hid. I could have ditched the camera, ran out, tackled the guy and avenged that beautiful young girl. But I hid. How can I sit here now when she will never have the chance?' There was a sense of desperation and self-indulgence in my voice. I was treating this girl as if I knew her. I didn't know jack.

'She was gone Saul, and if you had gone out there maybe you would be too. By doing your job we have a chance to expose this creep and save many others, you did the right thing.'

'Carmen...I love you.' The words trapped in my teeth and my pursed lips and I would never let them protrude forth. She must never know. She would never know.

I stood over the films and reels in my dark room waiting for the moment of disappointing inevitability. The lighting had been poor, the moisture too thick and the action too fast for me to capture anything of any real significance. However, this was my last act of defiance against the nightmares that had followed me on the drive home and as I sat nursing a scotch and recapturing the day. It was the sound, the sound that would live with me forever. The thud, that single note that lasted but a fraction of a second, yet would scar my consciousness for the rest of the time allocated on this godforsaken planet.

I placed the rest of the photographs in separate trays spotted around the study, adjusted their positioning with the tongs and placed them neatly on their hanger. My life may be a shambles, but I certainly made sure this was my area of tranquillity and order. I never felt more whole than when I was developing my photographs. They were the result of hard work and energy and reflected the world I saw, like the camera, an extension of me that ensured my life's futility at least had a record.

The pictures would take a while to develop for whatever they were worth, so I retreated out of the study to begin penning the tale ready for filing copy. There was only one problem: I couldn't trust anything I had seen. I have heard these tales before. Soldiers returning from the war suffering trauma who couldn't remember a single detail, but were still scarred and maimed by the sensory nature of it all. They may get flashbacks of faces and situations like snapshots, they may be triggered by certain smells or certain sounds, but when you ask them to describe what the war was like they cannot find the words like their brain has cut that entire piece out of their consciousness to save them from going insane. I used to look at those folks in a pitying sort of way, poor middle-aged men who saw something tragic a million miles away. I mean, it's tragic don't get me wrong, but when you really think about it, if you can't relate can you really care? Now though, I understood and I think I began to feel what I believe is called empathy; the ability to relate to someone else's hurt... blah blah give me a break.

I began to scratch pen to paper in hopes that even if my conscious didn't have a clue what was going on perhaps my subconscious if you believe in that sort of crap, would allow my hand to transcribe the truest account of the events I could muster. Thirty minutes passed in what felt like seconds, has been playing weird fucking tricks on me I tell you that. If there is a god, and I hope there isn't otherwise I've fucking had it, his name is Time. I say he, I mean, it couldn't be a she now could it? If you had a goddess called Time she would simply dominate all of it and leave you wondering where the fuck your money went... Now you come to mention it...

I reread what I had written, it wasn't bad but felt like Miss America, not enough substance and too superficial to be taken seriously. I returned to some of the files I had been keeping over the past few months and began to flesh out the story using the timeline of events, building on previously acquired knowledge and recounting some of the details of the murders to match the hallmarks between each one. I finished with two columns left, which I decided I would fill when I had my pictures and could accurately describe what was in them, that would be good for a laugh at least, even if it would be at my expense.

ploughed my way through an entire pack of smokes, the jitters would begin momentarily and it wouldn't be long before the sweats. I needed cigarettes like a fish needs water, they were integral to my being. I scoured my whole apartment until I came across another pack, a dark coloured foreign brand I couldn't pronounce. Carmen had brought these back for me from her brief holiday as a thank you for hiring her. God, that must have been eighteen months ago now. At the thought of her, my heart felt heavy and I had to sit down. The weight in my chest was like an anchor pinning me down. Had I completely blown it? I spilled my guts to her. What a fucking patsy.

I could have been sat for a few minutes or a few hours, it seemed to me that time had been going wrong all day. It never followed my instructions, time. It did what it wanted, played the games it wanted and I was just an innocent bystander of the wreckage it caused. I knew this much, it was still night, there was not even a crease of sun peering across the horizon as I gently raised the blinds expecting to be dazzled by a midday sun, such was the state of my disorientation. However, I had not slept and the weight of my eyelids pulling down across my bloodshot eyes like they were attached to elastic that had been secured under my chin suggested I had been awake for at least twenty hours.

Time would have to take a backseat as I had important work still to do. Resolutely I if you can stumble with any resolve at all, back into the dark room to see what I had produced earlier in the day. I cast a heavy glance over the first which showed a well-dressed male stooping to collect a figure sprawled out across the floor. The girl. He had a dark suit, presumably blue, had no hat and no other distinguishing features. I had managed a pretty dandy shot of the top of his head, and a fine head it was too, full of greased back black hair but unless fucking Chaupin was on the case no one could use it for anything meaningful so I instantly disregarded this one. I still knew nothing more than I had this morning, a youngish guy, well groomed, well built, anonymous. Passing on to the second I could begin to make out the makings of what appeared to be a face but his head must have been on a swivel at that point because short of confirming that he did indeed have a face and that it contained within it either a nose or an ear the second was just about as useless as the first. With a hint of desperation, I turned to the third and final picture. The exotic cigarette fell from my lips and dropped noiselessly to the floor, I was no longer tired, I was no longer confused, a surge of adrenaline had been unleashed from its distant hiding place somewhere within my being and now was coursing through every channel in my rotten body. There, in the frame staring back at me and gurning, in all his vivid clarity was the impudent son of esteemed congressman Pat Cox, his legacy and supposed protégé: Ernest Cox.

Moments passed, I stared dumbstruck at the picture. Could I really have been seeing this face? He was a public figure, he was ready to take a swing at office over the next few years and sat on the board of all Daddy's friends' conglomerates. He was wealthy. He was too wealthy. He had youth and a name and the world at his feet. Why would he risk throwing it away over something so heinous and seemingly mindless? Things didn't add up. I'm a pretty intelligent guy and I like to think I'm one of the best at my job, but I couldn't make sense of the scene slowly revealing itself in front of me. I felt like a teenager trying to make sense of 'The Crying Woman.' I knew the elements were all there for something sensational, but I couldn't distinguish what was real from what was simply my longing for there to be a face to attribute these irregular occurrences. Nevertheless, I had to report only on the facts, that's journalism 101. I needn't sensationalise or scrutinise, merely relay the facts I had at my disposal.

It was this thought that awoke me from my coma and encouraged me to drag my feet wearily to the telephone. I had removed my shoes hours ago, my feet were burning after being squeezed into fake Italian leather all day, although every step I took, even in my soft plait socks pounded to the rhythm of my heartbeat which couldn't make up its mind between frantic and ceasing. I was so tired. Tired enough that every blink felt like lead being tied to my eyelids and pulling them back up to focus on anything was harder than hoisting an anchor single-handed. If I stopped I would plummet into a sleep I feared would be so deep I wouldn't wake from yet the adrenaline that had been so ready to complete marathons around my circulatory system earlier now had abandoned me and lay dormant waving a white flag. It must have been French.

dialled the number, this was no time for mistakes. If I got the wrong line and announced this news to the wrong person I could not only kiss my story goodbye but my career just for good measure. Eventually, I was connected with Mr. Rogers, editor of the Union Daily Press and my boss. He was generally a good-natured man; well-meaning and very well established. He was a little passive for my liking but that meant he more often than not let me dictate my own agenda and pursue my own leads, which meant I was actually quite fond of him. In spite of this, it was a ridiculous hour, and his prickly tone me know that my call was thoroughly unwelcome.

'Do you have any idea what god damn time it is?' He fired immediately down the line.

'Actually no. I'm burning the wick pretty long tonight Al, but you know I wouldn't call if it wasn't important.' I tried to sound as urgently genial as I could muster. I immediately realised it hadn't worked.

kid. My wife is about to blow a fucking fuse and you know who's gonna get it for that? This sucker. And one more thing, at this time of fucking night it's Sir to you. Hear me?' I had seen his rage before, directed at admin clerks and junior assistants who fetch his coffee and lick his stamps, but being in the firing line was an entirely new experience for me; I was grateful for it, his tone was just what I needed to get Captain Adrenaline to rev his engines and get me fired up.

'Okay Sir, thank you for the time. I know that it's late but it's about the murders.'

'The hookers?' He questioned me in such a way I knew he was about three seconds from hanging up. He was not a man who liked to print trash and having prostitutes on the front page made his ever-waning hairs stand on end.

'I have a suspect. In fact, more than that. I caught the guy in the act.' I had to alarm him into acknowledging this couldn't have waited until the morning. 'It's huge sir. Societal collapse type huge.'

'Okay, just pretend for ten seconds I'm curious. Who is this "huge" guy as you so declare him?' His old, raspy voice had briefly softened to a low intermittent purr. He must have been poured a whisky by his houseboy.

'Ernest Cox.' These two words were met with a deathly silence that was more fit for a funereal march than a telephone conversation. 'Hello? Sir? Did you hear me?' The silence was broken by a long sip with a pronounced gulp, his whisky must have mysteriously vanished as he came back to me.

'I don't like it, Saul. I don't like it one bit. You're going to take aim at a legacy and for what? A couple of girls whose parents won't even notice they're gone. I need to run this one past, Henry. It's too big for me. I'll reach him in the morning. I suggest you sleep. Goodbye.' With this, the line went dead. Again, I stood dumbstruck however this time was for a much shorter period. I hurled the receiver at the wall and it splintered into pieces, showering the floor with spots of black plastic that made it look like it had been raining ink. My story was dead in the water before it even learned how to swim. Henry Kenwright was the owner of the paper, a member of the high society and no doubt a beneficiary of the ever so generous Congressman Pat Cox. In that moment I hated Al. I never considered the possibility he would choose loyalty to a brand over the truth of a story. I guess the bartender was right, I am a pup, only now a pup with his tail up being teased with a treat, I was unsure as to whether this post-sleep pup would bare teeth or not. I presumed not though, he would probably just roll over again and take it, like a good pup should.

I awoke early the next morning feeling as though I had taken a ride taped to the front of a train. My mouth was arid and my tongue felt like old parchment. Every bone in my body screamed from an entire day of overuse and being held in tension without release. I had finally hit the sack completely naked as material began to feel like it was constricting me, gradually getting smaller and tighter and would choke me while I slept. In a panic, I had ripped them off, thrown them in the trash and set fire to them. The ashen remains of the cotton fibres were still there when I lifted the trash can lid, but they were no longer . It was a crying shame; it really was a nice suit.

The advantage of having slept naked was the relief of being able to stumble straight into the shower without any fuss. If it needed effort, I'm not sure I would have made it. Flicking the historically silver coloured, but now a beautiful shade of limescale green, tap water careered out of the head and drenched me. I instantly felt less weight all over my body, like the water had forced off thousands of tiny irksome creatures that had been slowly swallowing my body and pushing me down. As that sensation crept through the more distant reaches of my anatomy I expected a fresh sense of invigoration to follow. A new sense that everything was not quite as bleak as it had appeared last night and my interpretation of the events had been blackened by a sheer need of rest. However, there was nothing. No fresh revelations or sense of perspective. No sense of forgiveness or understanding towards Al and his need to speak to Henry. No way of evading the distant thud that still coursed in the back of my mind or the distant face of a young girl bouncing off the concrete.

Drying took but a minute, my shaggy dog approach seemed to disperse most of the standing water, and after a shave I was ready to adorn a new costume for the day scanning my faux oak closet for my pale blue suit, perhaps black would have been more appropriate, considering the state of mourning I expected to find myself in later that day, but I resolved to be seen, if not heard. I choked down some toast between five to ten cigarettes and a large tumbler of brandy; my usual breakfast. I climbed into my Pontiac Streamliner, my dark grey beauty and I headed downtown to the centre of the city. The drive took me through many of the 'higher class' region of town; which led my mind to wander into dangerous territory. If Ernest Cox could simply get away with murdering prostitutes, what else was going on behind the opulence and decadence of these gated communities? How many secrets were held in the handbags of Hollywood actresses or under the hats of the wealthy elite male? The thought made my skin itch, a strange itch that worked its way from my feet to my hands, begging me to run or escape. I couldn't be a cog in a machine that functioned in such a way, no matter how small or rusty a cog I was, I had pride brother and I wasn't going to sit around waiting for disaster to rear its head again and compromise the shred of integrity I clung to.

Those thoughts and that itch followed me all the way to the front door. A rotating glass door that led into a busy foyer of a brand-new art deco design skyscraper. The building stood in white brick towering above the rest of the residents in the area and could be seen for miles if one were too inclined to drive out and look. It was supposed to resemble the towering intellect of the folks who worked there as if intellect and good reporting were one in the same. Nevertheless, I knew better. It was a man who had designed it, men who had built it for a man to sit in and revel at his empire. Call me crude, but we all knew what he's compensating for there. Even though the doors were on a constant rotation the scene behind them was crystal clear to me upon my approach and I certainly was not prepared for the image that greeted me. In the atrium stood Al, creased white shirt, black slacks, red suspenders and cigar to boot. He had a frantic look about him, hair, or what remained of it anyway, was unkempt and looked like he had been pulling at the half moon that perfectly framed his bare head. He was a stocky man in his youth, which meant he was plump in his middle ages, and now he was approaching the end of his career he was simply fat. Although, it was not this image that disturbed me so. I had seen this look in him a thousand times. It was the tall, skinny, pristine looking man stood next to him with a thin dark moustache and a perfect charcoal suit. Even though Al had about one hundred pounds on this guy there was no question about who was in charge. Worse still, I didn't need to scour the stores in my brain to attribute a name to the smug smile that peered at me through the glass, it was Pat Cox, congressman Pat Cox; father to a murderer, and I assumed the man who had arrived to squash the story and put me back in the box I crawled out from.

'Mr. Cross, nice of you to finally arrive.' Cox spoke first, confirming all I had first thought about the power dynamics in the relationship. 'Al here tells me you're pursuing a story about some street tramps who keep vanishing; is he correct?' The smug smile had drifted from his lips and a steely cynicism had stretched them thin and white.

'It is correct that I am writing a story which unmasks the murderer of young women in our district, yes sir.' I wasn't going to let him taint the facts, even though I knew it would be no avail.

'I see. Well, we certainly have a different definition of the word "woman" Mr. Cross. But no matter. You'll never believe what happened when I awoke to the sound of my telephone ringing this morning. My dear friend Henry Kenwright was on the other end and began to detail a situation to me in which one of his brightest reporters had identified my son as a murderer, and wanted to publish it in the newspaper. I was simply aghast, for you see my son was with me the whole day. And I can provide you a list of witnesses who saw him with me and can attest to his whereabouts. So, you see, you have been clearly mistaken, and I have just finished talking with Al here about how wrong you are and how the story needed to be dropped as it is obviously slanderous.' He spoke with a drawl which placed him from the oil fields of Texas, where his family had made enough money to buy their way to this position.

'We certainly do have a different definition of the word "woman" congressman, yet the pictures I have do not amount to slander, they amount to the fact, and facts are what this business is run on. So, if that is all sir, I would like to get to work so I don't miss the lunch press.' At this, his eyes darkened becoming snake-like slits that somehow seemed to dominate his face. He inhaled deeply and forced all of the pleasantries out of his voice as he lowered his gaze along with the volume and pitch of his voice so it was only audible to those in close vicinity, namely Al and I.

'Now listen here. You have no clue about the power I wield and you absolutely do not want to test my patience. Drop the fucking story or you will find yourself buried beneath twenty feet of cement before the day is out along with that whore you call an assistant. I am a man of my word Mr. Cross. Do not play games in the major leagues if you are not prepared for the consequences.' He straightened up, smacked the smug grin back on his face and returned to his formally polite manner. 'Good day gentlemen. I believe our business has concluded.' He stepped away from us with a soft patter along the marble floor. Al was drenched with sweat and looked a minute away from a breakdown. I waited just long enough to be safe I wouldn't catch the congressman entering his vehicle before turning and fleeing through the rotating glass doors. I was done, not with the story, I was more involved than ever now, I had practically received an admission from the psycho's father. But I was done trying to achieve exposure through standard means. Bringing Ernest Cox down was going to take something far more creative.

I slammed the driver-side door to my car and then instantly regretted it. After all, it wasn't the car's fault life was so draped in the enticing glaze of scandal yet so entrenched in corruption. I quietly apologised to the vehicle, an unnerving act to be sure, but nonetheless satisfied my guilt.  I drove home far more conscious than I had on the way in. The world now seemed to have a vibrancy about it that completely decimated the dullness of a blood-orange sunrise. The morning made everything cast short shadows with only a hint of light so we could have all been one in the same. However, the risen sun forced its light upon you, a solar lamp of interrogation that illuminated one half of you so vividly there was nowhere to hide, yet paradoxically plummeted half of you into a suspicious and delicious shade that invited questions about just what you felt required to hide from view.

That was much how I felt about my day. All of the elements were there, factual, partially illuminated, so close to being fully revealed. On the other hand, the amount now hidden in darkness was incapacitating, shadowing all that we needed to expose in order to stop the murderous deviant. Still, that would be a problem for later. For that moment, my problem was very simple to describe, yet intricate to resolve. Should I stay with the Union and be able to survive both monetarily and physically, (if Congressman Cox's threats were to be believed) or should I break free from the shackles of oppressive censorship in order to pursue the greater good with little regard for my well-being? I concluded there was only one person who could unscramble this impossible metaphysical dilemma, Old Fitzgerald from Kentucky. His pale brown complexion and smooth would set me straight. I just needed to find him.

I circled around a couple of known hangouts to no avail, there was no sign of him anywhere. By this point, I was starting to get a little bit desperate. It was close approaching eleven thirty and if I hadn't found him by midday I could consider this day a write-off, and that simply was not something I was prepared to do. At that stage in my life, approaching mid-thirties, I cannot afford to simply write days off. I had been fortunate enough to survive that long considering all that had come before, and goddamit if I wasn't absolute in the declaration I would not waste a single moment of time given to me, that is if I wasn't too tired and there wasn't anything could on the box.

I finally found him at a gas station a few miles out of town. What he was doing there I would never really fathom, but I was just so glad I found him I wasn't going to ask many philosophical questions before I had invited him over and began to consume all he could deliver. I drove home carefully, so carefully I think I could have been stopped by the police for going too slowly. I didn't want to draw any attention to myself, but just like any old 'don't touch' sign, in the conscious attempt not to do something you end up doing it accidentally. I was obviously inconspicuous enough though, and for the first time that day I laughed as I considered the benign conflict that plays out day after day between our conscious and sub-conscious. I thought that perhaps tomorrow I would try being a complete asshole just to see if the opposite occurred, it'd be a pleasant way to spend the day regardless.

I welcomed Old Fitzgerald into my home and sat opposite him. I put myself in my least chair, a thin leather abomination with no legs only a single curved frame. It ran from the top of the backrest, all the way underneath the seat, ran parallel to the seat on the floor and then curved back round to essentially form three 'U' shapes. Built within the frame was a wire mesh support for the back and seat, and rounded off by a thin mat of light brown faux leather. I had hated it in the shop and hated it more at home, but I kept it because I couldn't bear sitting in it for more than fifteen minutes at a time so it forced me to be purposeful and that was a day to be purposeful.

Old Fitzgerald from Kentucky sat opposite me in complete silence so I spoke with all the confidence I could muster.

'Look, we've had some good times together, but right now I'm in need, I need you to help me and I couldn't think of anyone better. I need to trust you that you're going to be good to me this time too. I'll just have to trust you.' I stood up and approached him cautiously. My hand outstretched and I trembled a little.

The scene suddenly went black. I can't remember ever reaching him but I must have and the backstabbing shit must have hit me straight between the eyes because as I came around three alarming yet intriguing thoughts flashed into my semi-conscious brain as the apartment slowly transitioned from bleary obscurity to darkened clarity. One: I was face down on the khaki piled rug; two: it was night and three: the traitorous fucker was nowhere to be found.

It must have been the sledgehammer that was trying to crash through my door that had awoken me, my head was throbbing and someone had started drilling into my brain. I stumbled as I tried to stand, legs feeling like they were nothing more than partly cooked spaghetti. They would have creased and given way at any moment so I used my momentum to fall face first into the door and fumbled for the knob. With a haphazard twist I gave into my legs and collapsed on the ground and the door swung back on its hinges. A figure moved into view and stood over me. My heart began to pound with such a ferocity I feared it would imminently appear through my shirt like a bad cartoon. Although I couldn't quite make out the distinguishing features of this creature, who I presumed had to be human, or a very lost bull given the velocity they were beating the door, I knew their scent; a sweet, floral scent that reminded me of the calm breeze which permeated from the parks nearby in summer. It was Carmen, and I'm not a body language expert but I was certainly able to read hers that evening, she was disconsolate with rage.

'Saul, you fucking asshole what do you think you're playing at?' Her voice rang in my ears and shook my brain, it was a violent question, but I sensed a hint of relief in it that confused me even more than her initial anger. Causing people rage was standard practice, in fact, I almost expected it. However, the softness that lay behind her eyes was something different which worried me more. There was clearly far more to this interaction than I had at that moment contemplated. I didn't have to wait long before the blissful ignorance I was screening myself with shattered before me. 'You have no idea what I'm talking about do you?' I hauled myself onto the sofa, propping myself as upright as my bones would allow, while she perched a fair distance from me on my writing table.

'Honestly, Carmen, I don't know what time it is, I don't know what day it is, and frankly, short of you appearing in my apartment and hollering at me, thank you for that by the way, I don't recall speaking to a single person since I left the Union this morning.' She leered at me, I tried to convince myself she wanted me and it was a look of longing, but I wasn't even stupid enough to believe that. It was a look of detestation; a look I had been seeing in the mirror for the past sixteen years.

'You called me, Saul. You called me rambling and droning on about Pat Cox and Al and Harry and fuck the Union and you couldn't beat Holmes and you weren't Dupin and how you needed saving. The last thing I heard was a smash, I assume glass, and then the phone went dead. I raced over here. I thought you were fucking dead.' The last sentence appeared completely without melodrama, she genuinely had considered that possibility and had come to save me. Her relief now made sense to me and for the first time in my wretched life, I felt shame. I hated myself, resented others and desired to be anyone other than the person I was, yet until that point I had never been ashamed. It felt surprisingly refreshing to be have experienced something newborn out of my love for her and the realisation she put some value on me. I needed to let her in on the secret, she deserved to know at least, what came after that would be entirely her choice and entirely justified but I had to let her know. Hesitantly I approached the revelation.

'I found Old Fitzgerald.' Now it was my turn to shift her attitude. She instantaneously transformed from a woman berating a friend to a mistress pitying her feeble servant.

suggestion, she wanted to know where he was so she could help get rid of him. It took all I had not to tackle her.

'I think so. I don't know where it fell.'

'Get yourself to sleep, Saul. I'll crash on the couch. We'll sort this in the morning.' Again, I had to catch my words and fight them back into the straightjacket from whence they came. Even if I had invited her to bed with me, there would have been no chance that she would have accepted. And even if she accepted, would I have wanted to sleep with the love of my life simply because she felt sorry for me? My pride gave an instantaneous yes, such a shallow, inept little man. I gently wept while I rolled off the sofa and toddled off to bed. Capitulation was a reality I would have to face now although I was fully unprepared, fully uninterested and fully loathe to do anything to stop it. At least my drunken call had revealed some honesty about me: I truly was in need.

The next morning, I stirred from my sleep with a much emptier heart than I had gone to bed with. Before I slept, I had a lustful, shameful and loving cocktail that presumed much, wished a little but hoped not a lot. This morning was simply hopeless. I didn't have a job I could return to, the case had gone completely to shit, I had fallen off the one bottle wagon I had vowed never to fall off and now my soul-mate was in the house thinking things of me that could never be undone. Old Fitzgerald had done it again.

I had maintained I would never touch the stuff after I fell into what I would call an unfortunate habit, but what others called an addiction, in my late twenties after the war. Other brands, other bottles, other flavours had none of the impacts on me of Old Fitz. He was able to get under my skin, into my being and was the only person out there who could numb the narrative that made me question my ongoing existence in this life. However, as he went about replacing my blood with neat whisky the people around me started to question if this was the healthiest relationship to be involved in so I had let him go, hoping never to meet again. Until that night I had been as good as my word. I didn't feel that way about other drinks, they were providing a service, one which I quite enjoyed thank you very much, but Old Fitz knew things about me and revealed things to me which no one else had the guts to show, we were partners long before Carmen came on the scene.

'Let's talk.' I hadn't noticed her appear on the threshold, she was a startling sight, a sight that brought everything to attention and I arrested my eyes on her in longing.

'Look, C, I...'

'Saul, don't. It's okay. I understand. Anyone in your shoes would turn to comfort after the mental strain you've encountered over the last few days. I don't blame you. I'm not even angry. But you scared me. You scared me more than anyone has before,' her eyes began to swell, welling up with an emotion I was unable to identify, let alone empathise with but I was appreciative of her kind words.

'I won't go there again C, that's a promise.' And strangely enough, I meant it too.

'The trouble is Saul that I've heard that before, and when I was just your apprentice it didn't matter, as long as you kept teaching me and the company kept paying me what did I care? But it's different now.' Her words were loaded with disappointment and desperation, but I still didn't have a goddam clue why.

'Stop being so elusive. What's different?' As I framed the question I noticed solitary tears squeeze from the corner of her eyes, tension gripped her body again.

'Oh please, like I have to spell it out for you. Anyway, you rushing to your bottle for comfort makes this whole thing a lot easier. I've got a plan, a plan to catch this guy and I was reticent before, but now there is no word that's going to stop me so you either get on board or leave me to it.' Indignation had replaced her previously posed exterior. I wasn't sure what on earth was going on, and she said I didn't need it spelling out but I really, really did. I resigned myself to a nod. That seemed to be the simplest way of giving her an answer without incriminating myself even more.

'So, I'll go out over the next few nights posing as a... Well, you know. I'll wait for him to pick me up, you follow in with the police, we catch a murdering lunatic millionaire.' My stunned silence belied the war that was going on inside my chest. What if we didn't get there in time? What if he changed his pattern? It was going to be all too risky and I wanted to end it there and then.

'No way. There is no way I'm letting you do that!' I blurted it out, but the sentiment was conveyed so I didn't really care about the lyricism at that moment.

'Get on board or leave me to it. Those are your choices; I'm not asking for your blessing. I'm telling you what's going to happen so you can either be a part of it or not. I'm beyond caring now.' She turned and started for the door. Her firm paces bridged the living room in a matter of seconds, but as she gripped the door handle she turned her head, and the resolve had gone. The tears returned. 'You know, if you had come to me for comfort instead of that fucking bottle we wouldn't be here, we would be waking up together, planning this together, planning our lives together. You're just too stubborn to admit you need anyone. Well, I needed you Saul, and you're so self-involved and oblivious you've broken my heart. Fuck you, sir, after this is all said and done, I quit.'

She was gone. The door slammed before I could form a response, my mouth wouldn't respond to any commands and my mind was waving the surrender flag. It couldn't take anymore and had given in command, I was completely on my own, a shell. Did she need me? Had I been so blind that I hadn't noticed? Or was it as she said, and I was just too egocentric to notice anyone else's feelings other than my own? Nothing made sense anymore. The past two days had seen my world crumble and I couldn't seem to grab a stray vine or jut of earth to stop myself falling faster and faster.

Then there was her plan. She intended to pose as a prostitute to lure Ernest Cox into a trap. That was something I could be sure of, and I wasn't going to sit there and let it play out in front of me without support. I may not have been there for her when she wanted me but as she said, I had two choices, and I needed to prove I notice her, I needed to prove I wasn't oblivious, I needed to prove I was worth bothering with after all. This case had become something new entirely. I wasn't even sure if I cared about Ernest Cox anymore, but for the time being, I needed to care. He had everything I held dear in his hands, my story, my integrity, my love. I needed to bring him down. The day flashed before me and I couldn't tell you what I had done to fill the time. Apart from being utterly restless and drinking what must have been Brazil's national deficit in coffee, I was up and down, stared out the window, twitched the blinds, berated the clock and dressed then redressed up to a dozen times. Like much that had befallen me over the previous few days nothing seemed to quite make sense, there was a jigsaw there with the picture emerging but the last few pieces were absolutely key and I couldn't place them to make sense of it all. Befallen here I thought was quite apt, as I wasn't convinced I could have acted any differently over the course of all that had unfolded. Sure, I shouldn't have turned to Old Fitz, but Carmen had never even alluded to feelings, let alone made a suggestion clear enough that she shouldn't have had to explain it. I felt quite put out by the whole ordeal. Why was I the one who was left alone and out on his fucking ass when it seemed to be everyone else who had made the mistakes? I mean, all I really wanted to do was expose a murderer. All that had happened since then was purely circumstantial and certainly not my fault.

That epiphany came to me as I showered, resigning myself to getting dressed one last time before heading out to alert the local PD and head down to the area in which I hoped Ernest was still frequenting. I stepped out and got myself dry. I dressed casually for the event, light grey polo shirt, cream slacks and rough suede lace-up shoes. If this didn't fool people into thinking I was just another punter I didn't know what would. I made myself feel uncomfortable just by staring into the mirror, or was this usual? I couldn't remember anymore. It felt like there were two Sauls in existence now, each taking parallel paths. The first had been brave, attacked Ernest while he had the chance and was currently being celebrated for his actions, slowly repairing years of psychological damage that had slowly consumed his mind like mould on bread. The second Saul was here. The coward who cowered and took photos. The one who could no longer remember ever feeling like the first Saul. The Saul was about to watch a murdering psychopath try and pick up his one true chance at love. For that reason and at that moment the second Saul remembered the feelings that had swarmed over his body every time his face appeared in the mirror. Detestation. I hated the guy staring back, which isn't news to you I know, but nonetheless, a fresh perspective on this kike was warranted and served to make me disregard all thought I was contemplating of personal safety.

As I piled into the hallway, steeled for the chase I noticed a bright yellow note that had been taped to the door. There was no address, and no pretext it simply read:

 

A truth that's told with bad intent

Beats all the Lies you can invent.

It is right it should be so;

was made for Joy and Woe;

And when this we rightly know

Thro' the World we safely go.

 

Every Night and every Morn

Some to Misery are Born.

Every Morn and every Night

Some are Born to sweet delight.

Some are Born to sweet delight,

Some are Born to Endless Night.

 

He had been here. I had been in the apartment all day and he had managed not only to sneak up to the door, he had fixed a threat to it without my even blinking. The message sent my heart pounding out of my chest and I barrelled down the stairs towards the complex door. Sweet delight and endless night, the juxtaposition wrenched at me as I stepped out into the close night air. It was so hot it felt suffocating, the rain of the previous days had given way to a tropical system which had encircled the city and squeezed all of the air out of it. I made my way towards the car at such a pace I was completely oblivious to the footsteps matching and then beating my speed behind me. By the time I clocked them it was far too late. At least six strong hands pulled at my limbs and sent me crashing to the floor. A hood was pulled over my head casting me into complete darkness. They operated silently and I assume discreetly as there was no sign of a fuss as I was bundled into a vehicle and it sped away. I could have screamed; I could have struggled but there was no use. I had to keep my wits, for better or worse they were taking me closer to the danger, and that is exactly where I needed to be. I could smell the end of Ernest Cox approaching, and while my current predicament did not lend itself to it being me who brought him down, I was sure that he couldn't escape his impending plight.

 

 

Some to Misery are Born.

Some are Born to Endless Night.

 

It must have been about twenty minutes later that my hood was eventually hauled off and light consumed my eyes. They watered briefly from the sudden sensory sensation then established themselves in a very nice car interior. There was plush, grey, leather upholstery with stained oak effect throughout and the windows had been tinted so the artificial lights of the night time could bounce off the interior, but there would be no prying eyes that could capture a glimpse of the activities within. This was all very well because staring back from across from the cavern that divided front and back of the car was congressman Pat Cox. His tight little shined as if he had waxed it especially for the occasion, but this time he donned a black suit and a sneer. I had no desire to be in the presence of this man, but my presence had obviously required. I decided to eat my fear and face up to him, if I was going down I was going to make him as uncomfortable as possible. Let the guy sweat a little before he buried me, as he put it, 'under twenty feet of cement.'

'You could have just sent an invitation Pat.' No need for pleasantries tonight, this would be all business.

'Not a foreplay man then I see? Well, you certainly are bolder and braver than I would have imagined. I am a little concerned you are in need of an interpreter. Clearly, you didn't understand me when I said drop it.' He was portraying himself in a way that was caused me alarm. He did not have the dark, sinister temperament that I was expecting, on the contrary, he seemed to be enjoying himself, perfectly jovial.

'I understood congressman, but I don't bow to threats or bribes. Never have, never will. It's how I sleep at night.' I wasn't sure why I had stated that, it made me appear subordinate to him. He wielded a power that I assumed had that effect on a lot of people.

'We will see how you sleep tonight Mr. Cross,' and before I could chime in, he added, 'we are going to resolve this messy business tonight. I cannot have it dragging out any longer, and as you appear unwilling to take a hint, I will put the fate of my family in your hands, as I am a fair hearted man committed to the truth and most importantly, to justice.' I sat incredibly uneasily now. I shifted around in my seat, he had something, he must have. There is no way he would leave this to chance. I racked my brain in an attempt to find an avenue that he could have manipulated, an end he could have twisted in order to be this condescending. Only Carmen sprang to mind, but she would not be out without backup, she would either wait for the police or wait for me. There is no way that she would have been that reckless. I questioned him about the danger he was putting his family in, and much like everything that had happened since my hood was peeled off, his response surprised me.

'I care nothing for that little pervert son of mine Mr. Cross. He is useless. A millionaire perhaps and heir to my seat because I have no alternative and I would rather pass my seat to a moron in my family than to a worthy stranger. But it is my reputation that I am concerned for. I would disown him and disassociate myself from the whole case, but there is nothing I could possibly do to keep my name out of the press in a negative way. Still, that is a risk I will take, in the name of justice you understand?' I didn't understand. The words that slithered out from between his lips covered the real purpose and I couldn't fathom what was happening. He held all of the cards here, there was nothing I could threaten him with, nothing I could touch him with, he had just seen to that. I sat, limply scanning my brain for anything that might veer the conversation back in my .

All at once, the car slowed to a halt and the windows smoothly dropped from their position. I could now see outside very clearly. We were outside what appeared to be an all-hours cafe called Bara's. It was a dirty looking joint with a few white plastic chairs arranged around black cast iron tables. A fat, greasy server leant on the bar with a far-away look in his eye. Business was slow, in fact, it was dead in there but as I had no idea what time it was that was not particularly surprising. I glanced around at the congressman who was now beaming from ear to ear. Whatever was going on he was enjoying it. As I stared, a van pulled up and violently screeched to a halt directly outside the establishment. The back doors swung open and four men in masks piled out. They were carrying a rug between them, but it was what was in the rug, struggling and flailing that made me cry out at the top of my lungs. My beautiful Carmen. I tried the door handle desperately but it would not budge and the windows careered upwards blocking my only other escape route, by the time I had busted them and squeezed through I would have been restrained I was certain. I pivoted on my seat and fixed Pat with a despairing look. The horror gave away all sense of manoeuvrability I may have intended to carve out with him. At that moment, I realised I was completely at his mercy.

'Now that I have your attention Mr. Cross I am going to give you a choice. It is a simple choice but I would consider it very carefully, as it will only be presented once. You can stay in the car, we will drive to my home and I will honestly fill you in with secrets and stories that will put this case you are pursuing firmly in its place. It is but a drop in the ocean of a scandal so large, once you hear it you will forget all about my worthless offspring. Or, you can be released from the vehicle in pursuit of your darling apprentice and I will not hinder your egress at all. However, I should stipulate one condition, Mr. Cross, choose quickly, time is of the essence.' At this, his face was engulfed in a roaring orange light from outside of the window that painted black streaks across his visage, the grin now looked demonic rather than satisfied.

I flashed my eyes back to the window aware of the devastating inevitability that would present itself to me once I had. There, was the same scene I had glanced upon but moments before, but this time Bara's was spitting out hot, all-consuming fire from every window and door. I did not have time to think before I wrenched the handle and flew out of the door towards the heat that began to lick my skin the second I moved from the safety of Pat Cox's embrace.

It took me seconds to cross the street from the car to the scorched door of the cafe. Debris was crashing from the ceiling and multiple struts and supports had given way. Fear had not escaped me, but self-preservation certainly had. My entire being was focussed on reaching, what by now must have been, the slowly charring body I sought after and returning it to a peaceful resting place. I raised my coat up around my mouth to attempt to restrict the smoke from entering my lungs and making me pass out before I reached her, however, the smoke was so thick by that point I began to choke regardless. I retreated out of the doorway and surveyed the landscape around me in search of inspiration. To one side of the cafe was a restaurant with a secured outside seating area. I tied my coat now around my mouth so I could have both hands free. I tore one of the fabric dividers for the restaurant from its mount and re-entered the cafe. Throwing it lengthways out in front of me I miraculously but haphazardly managed to smother just enough of the fire so I could skip over and duck behind the counter. Flames snaked up my legs as I proceeded and I felt a devastating burn creep from my ankles to my knee. I was sure adrenaline would dissipate some of the pain temporarily so I continued to hobble on and fell under the counter that separated the burning furniture from the rest of the cafe.

The shell of the building was now shrouded in flames and smoke so I had to squint and strain to get any clear picture. I spotted a door, about eight feet away from me that didn't seem to have been swallowed by the fire yet, and having not found a body hope flooded back through me. I summoned all of the recesses of energy I had left to carve my way through the doom to reach the door and barrelled through it, carelessly slamming it behind leaving the roaring and the sensory overload behind me, at least temporarily. The door would not hold out for long so I had to get back on my feet and continue to search. It was at that moment a searing pain shot through my lower limbs causing me to collapse instantly. My body was a wreck and it had decided this was the time it would let me know. Burns covered two-thirds of my legs and my hands were a violent shade of pink where most of the skin had melted off on door handles. Tears streamed from my eyes as an overwhelming sense of helplessness forced its way upon me. The mixture of smoke, pain, and desperation was a lethal concoction I was not sure I could rise from. Crawling, I dragged myself towards a second room to the left of the dingy black corridor. The cool tiled floor gave temporary solace for my injured hands and I inched, like a wounded insect, closer to the bottle green door. Turning the handle made my hands scream again, and it may have been accompanied by my own screams but I can't be sure.

The room beyond was the polar opposite of everything external to it. It was peaceful, except for the whirring strip lighting which gave it a clinical feel, the whitewashed walls cast light around, illuminating everything in its path. It took a minute for my senses to adjust to the room, but when I had, I instantly wished they would return to their distorted haze. Slumped, in the middle of the room, strapped to a large wooden chair was Carmen. Her head drooped clumsily onto her chest and she did not move. I inched agonizingly over to her, desperate for the truth but in complete denial about what it would reveal. Her clothes, a flowing white shirt and black slacks were coated in dirt and blood. She had a single, deep laceration on her right arm that had been bleeding, but it appeared had stopped some time ago. I reached my fingers under her chin and tilted her head back. I gazed at her face for a few seconds only, absorbing as many details as I could before letting it flop back down and I curled up onto the floor howling. During my momentary scan, I had observed that her eyes were shut, and she had several large bruises dotting her cheeks. Her nose was coated with a bright red blood, not very old but, much like the wound on her arm. Her blood was no longer flowing. Her heart had ceased pumping blood to these areas.

The fire was a distant memory as I turned to face her. I sat with my knees up to my chest and I wrapped my arms around them, not wanting to be any larger or any more vulnerable than the foetal position I had adopted. I wonder why people do that? We have no memories from the womb but in times of peril people instantly regress to the position they maintained before taking their first breath. It was quite a dark reflection of our world, and considering the sadism that had gone into this catastrophe, it reflected it perfectly.

I forced myself to look at her. Her sweet, bright life reduced to a corpse before she had a chance to make her mark on the world. She had certainly made her mark on me, and I wouldn't let her into the grave without telling her. I choked the words out between deep gasps for air and choking back tears.

'Carmen, I'm so sorry. I will never forgive myself for what I have put you through and how this ended up. It was never the plan. The truth is I have loved you every second of every minute since you came into my life. You changed me into a more hopeful, better human being than I could have ever dreamt of being before you and while I never told you, I hope you felt it. I will not rest until I find the people responsible and have sent their bodies to hell. I will see you again my love, please rest and know that you did not die needlessly.'

'Such beautiful words Mr. Cross. Too bad it's too late for her to hear them. Never mind. They satisfied me,' I spun to see the face from the photos glaring down at me, giving me the look a predator gives its prey when it is about to devour. A metal object caught the fluorescent lights as it swung towards me but I didn't have time to brace. I was caught across the temple and once again in this sorry tale darkness enveloped me.

'She was scum, just like the rest of them; you know that don't you?' The words slowly dripped through my senses as the room began to materialise from the fog that had swallowed me. I wished sense had stayed away. Every cell, every fibre was pulsating with jagged pain that flashed hot and sordid. My attempted writhing did nothing but reveal just how completely spent I was. I had nothing left within me to give. I had fought my fight, loved my love and had lost both. I was done. I closed my eyes wishing for the fog to rise again and strip me from this place, transplanting me to somewhere beyond, somewhere safe. A place where I could mourn, lick my wounds and concede defeat on this earth. This though was clearly not in the plans of Ernest, who had placed himself about ten inches from my face so I could almost taste his words. 'I mean, don't get me wrong, she was a special kind of scum to be trying it on like that. The other girls were just playthings, simply a means to get by, they asked for it and were given what they desired. But your girl; she was different wasn't she? I mean, to actually volunteer? What did you load her up with before you sent her out? I gotta know, it's gonna be a huge business.' I spat in return at him, but the air was so scorched and dry that nothing flew forward, there was no sense of my contempt expect a sharp exhalation of air that must have reinvigorated his drive to torment me. 'Naughty boy. A real man would have done it. A real man would have followed through. A real man would stand and resist and arrest me. I'm a murderer, and much, much worse. But you won't. And worse than I know you won't, is that you know you won't. You don't have it in you. You don't have the gall. You are a pathetic excuse for a creature to be given breath and if you manage to leave here I would be smarter if I were you. My dad said you have a problem with being smart. Don't worry though, you'll learn, they always do.'

At this, he flipped my chair back and I plummeted towards the floor, unable to brace, unable to stop myself with my limbs all firmly fastened to the dark oak chair I had been placed on. My entire weight crashed down onto my arms and hands and for once I screamed in agony. There was no amount of resolve or anything I could summon that would fight the primitive part of my brain that simply needed to react.

'I'll be in contact you kike cunt.' His footsteps withdrew to a pale patter before I finally observed my resting place. It was the same room where I had discovered Carmen. I had a terrible emptying sensation when I realised this was the same chair in the same spot and she was nowhere to be seen. What had this been for? What was the point? I had pursued with and no Carmen. I cursed myself and my stupidity. Why did I feel I could make a difference? Why, of all the people on the planet, did I feel I was the one to stop this guy? There was no amount of cursing or providence that could reconcile the reality, my stupidity and my desires. I had ruined it all, and I couldn't even bring myself to identify where it had all gone so wrong. It seemed at points so cut and dry, so easy, so blatant. I was missing something, that hole in the jigsaw and I was scrabbling around on the floor with my fingers trying to catch a corner of it, but it didn't materialise.

Time passed, as it always had done and always did for me, in a complete blur of transience. It was ethereal, and I couldn't bend it to my whim the way the strong and powerful could. Eventually, I was hauled from the ashen carcass of a restaurant by the emergency services and dusted off. They gave me a royal kicking before they released me as I had clearly been a part of something illegal, perhaps even part of Carmen's death. They told me they had found her body, charred remains of a female by the front door. I didn't cry. And as they beat me for clearly committing the crime, tying myself up to avoid implication and hiding all the evidence so they couldn't charge me I didn't wince or moan, I had screamed my last scream.

 

* * * *

 

A week later, I dragged my feet down West Pico Boulevard to the bar I had frequented before first ever setting sights on Ernest Cox. I had made it my home away from home since being chucked back onto the streets by the honourable boys in blue and had begun to understand why the patrons felt at home there. The bartender had instantly gotten a hang of my order, and his face didn't annoy me half as much as it used to. Maybe he just had one of those unfortunate .

I parked myself at the bar and was readying myself for the long haul when thick grey smoke slipped itself across my face like velvet and hung in the air with anticipation. I turned to my right to look for the source of this small chimney and found myself to be joined by a squat, bald man with a thick head and thicker trunk. He was dressed inappropriately dapper for a man of his complexion, a bright white suit that reflected back the brazen light, sharp red pocket square matched his tie and suspenders.

'Tell me about it kid.' He croaked. I stared back at him questioningly.

'I'm sorry, do I know you?' My retort was respectful yet blunt.

'Nope, but you sure should, and more importantly, I know you. So stop fucking around, start at the beginning and don't leave anything out. I want to know why you're still here, and Ernest Cox is still able to tear this city a new asshole.' His outburst was so confident and brusque it caught me off guard. I blinked vacantly at him for a short while before I uttered a brief agreement. For some reason, there was a despondency and resilience in his eyes that I trusted. For the next thirty minutes, I talked at him, pausing only for a drag or for a shot. As I concluded my tale with:

'Then they dumped me at home and I haven't thought of it since.' He stood.

'Yeah. Tough break kid. Come with me, we have a lot to discuss.'

 


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