Monday, May 16, 2011

Noir at Ranfurly Review 14

Missing Persons

Nick Costello is contorting his body into impossible positions. He is squeezing his frame to fit against the edges of a rectangular space that is without screen, a spill of blackness. This is the Bronx. This is someone’s version of a god-forsaken section of it, an abandoned house sometimes used by junkies, the homeless. In this section of the Bronx, everyone’s story is a shade of gray. Nick’s fedora scrapes against his forehead, his .38 in Weber rig nudges against his ribs. He wonders if he will fall head-first against concrete, a sizeable drop. Will he not become his own victim. Once upon a lifetime, Nick was an honest cop, not a private dick promising rich dames wearing camel-fur that he would find their AWOL hubbies, their poodle-pampered lovers. Nick always came up emptyhanded.

One night, someone struck Nick from behind, and when he woke up, he felt he was falling through floors, phantom floors, endless deceptive floors.

To get inside this house is not an easy feat for a man built like Nick, old as Nick. He is short and bald, a paunch that seems to grow another inch every three weeks. He is fifty-two and some ugly days and nights. His goatee is a marriage of salt and pepper. Nick thinks: I’m too old for this shit.

Nick is inside the basement. A scent hits him, stinging, something fetid, rotten. On concrete, his steps are slow, stop-and-go, slower than his breaths. He is slightly out of breath. He is shining a
flash-light against the rusted metal of an old oil burner, a trail of glass syringes. The smell begins to devour him. Nick turns and stands over the body. Nick is scared. His breathing races.

He squats and points the flash-light at various angles. Her legs are white, crossing over, slender as a pom-pom girl’s. The panties are pulled to her ankles. Her blonde hair is matted, having lost its life and lustre. One half of her face is smashed in. The other half is perfect, expressionless, gives up nothing. On the street, Nick drops a dime to call her husband, the old man, Feinberg.

--Mr. Feinberg. Nick Costello. I know it’s been a while. Listen. I found your wife. I’m afraid it’s not good news.

There is a silence deeper than the Bronx.

--If the cops had done their job . . .

--I know, sir. I’m so sorry.

Another chasm of silence.

--How much do I owe you?

Nick tenses his eye muscles.

--I don’t think this is the right time to talk about money, sir.

--How much do I owe you?

--Let’s call it an even three hundred, sir.

--You’ll have a check in the mail.

Nick looks up at the sky. It is the color of an old woman, ashen, hoping when there is no reason to hope.

Listen, he thinks. Somewhere. The Dodgers are losing a game in a strange city.

Somewhere. A man beats his daughter while the mother tells herself that she is helpless to prevent this.

Somewhere. A racehorse named Lucky Lightening, Nick’s
favorite, finishes in third.

Copyright © Kyle Hemmings

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