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Body, Soul, Murder, Episode 7: “Louis Gets Results”

#body-soul-murder #detective #jazz

Read the past episodes here.

Woody Bleeker, private detective, followed Maria up Broadway into Harlem. He was supposed to be helping her with her case—her cheating husband and the mysterious and malevolent Andiamo that seemed to be pursuing them—but he didn’t have any leads to speak of. A little following couldn’t hurt, right?

A cab honked, and Maria turned around to see what the noise had been. Woody ducked for a trash can, but he was too late.

“Mr. Bleeker?” said Maria.

“Mr. Bleeker was my father,” said Woody, removing a banana peel from his shoulder.

“What are you doing here?” said Maria.

“Well, my office is just up here, and—”

“—Your office is on the Upper East Side,” said Maria.

“This is my satellite office,” said Woody, improvising. “I have many offices. Anyway, what are you doing here?”

“Oh, I was just going to see a friend play some music. Louis. I suppose you might as well come along.”

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Louis walked down the Harlem bar’s creaky stairs with a smile that made Woody like him, to his dismay. A saxophone hung from a strap around his neck.
“Hey, Moretti!” he called. “Isn’t it past your bedtime?”
“Oh, suck my dick,” said Maria.
“Well, I gotta get my tonguing practice in somehow. What’s up?”
“I… might need help with something. Something non-musical.”
They went to another bar to watch Louis’s quintet play. The trumpet player up front scowled towards the counter whenever the cash register rang. Louis played a mournful solo. The air was thick with smoke.

Louis sat down to join them and the rest of the band continued as a quartet. The piano player began to play a mysterious tune. It wound its way around the room, filling the air with expectation.
“Damn,” Maria whispered.
“I know,” said Louis. “I think he’s the only one of those Juilliard guys that doesn’t feel the need to play every scale he knows when he gets up there.”
The rest of the band kicked in, and the pianist punctuated the space between them with strange, spare chords.
“So, a little while ago,” Maria began, “I… took some pictures.”
“What kind of pictures,” said Louis.
“Well, I was, uh, naked in them…”
“I see,” he said. Woody didn’t detect any flicker in his expression—it was serious and empathetic. “So, what? You don’t want them to get out?”
“Oh, no, it’s too late for that. …They were supposed to be artistic.”
“Who took ‘em?”
“Some guy. Phil.”
“Your husband?” said Louis. His eyes didn’t leave Maria’s.
“So, what, he sold them? Have you talked to the police?”
“It’s worse than that,” said Maria. “They’re being used for a, a—”
Maria stopped and seized on something in her field of vision, behind Woody. “Is that guy staring at me?” she said.
Woody turned around, pretending it was some kind of stretch. Three men sat in conversation… but was there something fake about it? Had they just abruptly switched the topic?
Louis was getting up from the table.
“Hey. Louis—” said Maria.
Louis approached the table with absolute calm.
“Would you mind if I asked if you were checking out my friend over there?” he said.
“Hey, man, it’s a free country,” replied the one that had turned to face Louis. The other two were staring into their drinks. They suddenly seemed like scared college kids. Meanwhile, an air of confidence and—not menace—but power—emanated from Louis.
“Yeah, it’s nice for some,” he said. “Would you mind my asking if you know her from somewhere?”
“Yeah,” the bold one said, grinning. He was the most drunk, and suddenly seemed eager for a fight.
“We’ve seen a lot of her,” he said. “Harris here has touched a lot of her, too.”
“No I haven’t,” said Harris. The kid was terrified. “I saw some of the other girls, but she was never there when I went.”
“…Went where?” said Louis.
The bold one grinned. “The cathouse on 55th, man.”
Woody watched Louis. For a second, it seemed that he was capable of flipping over the table; of breaking the drunk one’s nose and casting the other two through the air and into the bar. Instead, he took a breath.
“Listen,” he said. “Whatever you might think, my friend is not in that kind of work. Now, if you’ll kindly pay up and enjoy the rest of your evening somewhere else, that would be much appreciated. My friend is going through a lot.” Though he was still calm, there was a note of danger hiding somewhere in his speech.
He turned and started back towards Woody and Maria’s table.
“I bet she has,” the drunk said, making a gesture in the air.
It happened before Woody could register what was happening. Louis was back at the other table, airborne, and the drunk was underneath him. Louis’s eyes were a centimeter from his.
“Now,” he said. “I happen to be a believer in nonviolence, and that’s why your head is still a solid and not a liquid; but nonviolence, while a noble goal, is not always the most expedient method for getting results. I employed the doctrine of nonviolence to try and get you to act like a human being, and not a drunk monkey that’s about to shit itself, in front of my friend. But if that doesn’t get results within the next five seconds, I will have to resort to violence. So what’ll it be?”

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Body, Soul, Murder, Part six, by Ed King

#body-soul-murder #detective

last week’s episode

Woody Bleeker sat at the desk in his apartment, his worried eyes roaming. He spent all day at the office tallying crimes. They were being committed all the time!

Music drifted up from the street with the warm summer air. What kind of world was this that he’d been placed in? A world of murder, a world of vice? Was there no order?

He left his office for the dark street. The warm air enveloped him.

He stopped in at a bar. Inside it was busy, and he had to jostle to get to the front.
“One beer, please!” he said to the bartender.
“Yeah, which one?” the bartender replied.
“Uh, which ones do you have?”
The bartender shook his head and started to serve somebody else.
“No, wait! I’ll have a Rheingold.”
“One Rheingold.”
The barman poured it out. Woody sat drinking it, watching the bar’s clientele.
They spoke in the rough tones of Manhattanites. Not one was perfectly formed, not one
spoke in soft flowing flawless syllables. Had they all committed crimes? Where did
that leave them?
Woody noticed two men enter from a side door. They got to the bar and were served
right away. They sat down at a booth in the corner and kept their heads low. Woody
listened to their conversation.
“Are we going tonight?”
“Not tonight.
“Why not?”
“We went two nights ago.”
“But they’re playing the Night in Tunisia movie. It’s brand new.”

Woody followed the two men outside. A clock tower above read five minutes past eleven.

They entered a building whose gaudy neon sign read “THE CRYSTAL THEATRE.” Grimy mirrors surrounded the doorway.

Woody followed them at a safe distance to a large, sloping room with a movie screen in front. The theatre was sparsely populated with moviegoers slumped low in their seats. The film was just beginning.

It had a paper-thin plot. A wealthy debutante came to New York and met a jazz musician. She was with her father at a whites-only nightclub. She met eyes with the musician during the performance. The film cut close-ups of both their eyes together and overlaid them with messages going between:

“After the show.”

“Where?”

“Do you know the Club Caliban?”

“No. I’ll have to sneak out.”

The theatre was plunged in shadow, only lit by the reflected light from the projector. Woody looked at the figures behind him and to his sides. He could have sworn he saw faces he knew, faces from his childhood. A man’s booming laughter filled the room at intervals.

The film’s two characters met up at Club Caliban, but they didn’t stay there for long. They left for a hotel room, and from there the film took a turn for the seedy.

Woody started to feel sick. He got up from his seat and went to the back of the theatre.

He ran into a man in the hallway with a thin mustache and long sideburns. Without thinking, he brought his badge out of his pocket, yelled, “you’re under arrest!”

The man’s eyes widened. He ran down the corridor. Woody pursued, but the man had disappeared into the night.

Follow Ed on twitter at @edjamesking

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Body, Soul, Murder, Part Five, by Ed King

#body-soul-murder #detective #fiction #jazz #mystery #new york

It was Friday night, and Maria was tired. She sat at the window watching the evening traffic go by. The sound of Carol’s music wafted in from the next room, drowning out all the quiet sounds from the street.

Carol was putting on makeup, getting ready to go out. Carol Flanagan who played the guitar and wrote poetry. They never got along well. She had a boyfriend and spent maybe one night in five at the apartment. A space of time in which she managed to turn the bathroom and the kitchen into disaster zones and play records just loudly enough to be dully grating. She didn’t try to be a hassle; she just was. It was simply her way.

Why had Maria come to New York? For what—for Jazz? Was that really it? The strange melodies, the thumping bass. Had that been important enough to uproot her whole life? To leave her father?

The door slammed, and Maria was all alone in the New York apartment with no hot water.

She had lived in the city for six months and not made a single friend. To be truthful, the city horrified her. She was terrified of its dark alleys, its infinite variety. She hadn’t talked to her father.

Worst of all, she hadn’t been to a single jazz show. She lived right in the Village but she hardly ever left the apartment. She spent all day in her room, reading or listening to music. Late at night had become the only time she ever felt like eating anything any more.

A Turkish restaurant in the village had become her sanctuary. It was open late, and she left to go there now, unsure of how she would survive hours in the apartment by herself.

A man stumbled into the restaurant at one o’clock. His clothes were rumpled. He was thin, and he had a thin mustache and long, thin sideburns. He was drunk.

“Eddie!” he cried to the man behind the counter.

The counterman turned. “Phil. What?”

“Eggs. Bacon.”

Phil noticed Maria. He sat down next to her and held out his hand.

“Phil Ocks.”

Maria turned away.

Phil started to mumble to Eddie. His friends were all bastards, he didn’t need them, that kind of thing. Eddie paid no attention.

Phil gained interest in Maria again; he turned and looked into her eyes.

“You know, you’re beautiful,” he said.

She turned to face him.

“Do you really think that or are you just saying it?”

“I know it.”

He left, forgetting about his food. She regretted dismissing him so suddenly. Wasn’t this what she had come to New York for? Life, free from the chains of Lincoln? Meeting strange men, dangerous men?

She walked out into the street. Phils’ form was just beginning to fade from the cone of a streetlight.

“Wait!” she called.

He turned around. She ran to meet him. She looked into his eyes, and they were like a gateway to the life she had imagined for herself.

She slept with him that night. It was not how she had imagined it. He fell asleep in her bed and she found that she couldn’t stand to lie there next to him. She moved to the couch in the living room. It got cold in the night but she couldn’t bring herself to go back to her bedroom to get a blanket. She just lay there—she could hear him breathing—listening to him sleep in her bed.

When the morning came, he got up and came into the living room. He was hung over and very confused at first, but when he realized how Maria felt he apologized. He offered to make her breakfast.

Maria was genuinely sort of charmed by how sorry she was, and she let him. He brought a blanket out of the bedroom for her and she turned on the radio and sat there wrapped up on the couch, listening to the food sizzling on the stove.

They didn’t talk. He made a big breakfast for her but he just made a fried egg for himself and sat there eating it, not rushing, with his eyes down.

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Body, Soul, Murder, part four by Edward King

#body-soul-murder #detective #jazz

Maria decided to go out the next night. Billie Holiday was playing at the Three Deuces. If she didn’t go now, she knew she never would.
She turned on the shower. For once, the water was hot, and that felt like a sign. She put a record on in the other room and left the door open so she could listen to it while the room steamed up.  She put on makeup. It must have been the third time she’d done so since moving to New York.
She took the subway to 52nd Street and  walked to the club. All the noises of the city seemed to make a song of which she was part. She felt herself as temporary but permanent, as if this moment, this New York City evening, would last forever, as if she’d been forgiven for everything she’d done wrong. It was only a moment, but it was enough.
Billie was singing “Solitude” when Maria went in. The club was small and the décor was unimpressive, but Maria hardly noticed, so magnetic was Billie Holiday’s presence.
She found a table, sat down, and let the music sink into her. Suddenly, she understood. The pain on Billie’s face was so deep. She was so lonesome. But the music she was singing was so elegant; so full of unexpected and wonderful turns. Willing to drag meaning, to drag beauty out of the dark. To get it by any means necessary. To find it late at night when all the cigarettes were gone and the voices were husky and all the wrinkles and crevices stood out on the faces. When hope had already been renounced; when it had gone away; her voice called it back.
Phil Ocks walked into the club, bearing his camera. He watched Maria’s face closely. It was like she was having a revelation, a religious experience.
%
They slept together again. Afterwards, Phil watched her through the lens of his camera.
“You’re beautiful,” he told her.
She smiled.
“Aesthetically beautiful.”
“What is the distinction?”
“…Do you know where the word ‘aesthetics’ comes from?”
“I think so.”
“It was this Greek word, aistheta. It means ‘perception.’”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely.” Those black-coffee eyes in hers.
“It had nothing to do with beauty until the seventeenth century,” he said. “A philosopher took it to use in his treatise about beauty. He wanted to describe a kind of beauty that came purely from the senses, not from the intellect.” His eyes still trained on her, he ran his hand up her thigh.
He trained the camera on her. Click.

Follow Ed at @edjamesking

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Body, Soul, Murder, Part Three, by Ed King

#body-soul-murder #detective #mystery

They went to a party at an apartment on 110th and and Broadway. Woody had never been to Harlem before. He looked around the street before they went in. Negroes in suits with musical walks greeted each other outside the doorways blaring jazz. On this Friday evening, they seemed more joyful, more full of life than any human beings he’d ever seen before.

The elevator was perpetually out and there were no inside stairs, so the partygoers mounted the steps of the fire escape in the cold. Before they knocked at the door, they took a moment to see if any friendly face was coming up the stairs behind them, a name to shout into the night; or if any raucous souls were perched atop the roof.

Inside the party, the music was the same way as what they’d passed on the street. A crackling intelligence, a sophistication of a kind he’d never known before, seemed to extend through the black skin and the black night through the gleaming horns and back out into the air. It landed in the dancers on the floor—hot and sweaty, shaking and grooving, smelling of glorious human bodies.
He felt all the fear of the newspaper article and Andiamo melt away. It seemed that it had never been real anyway.
He danced with Maria. The world of paperwork and phone calls receded further into obscurity. This was a new language. No forms or memos. Just her body against his.

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Body, Soul, Murder, Part Two, by Ed King

#body-soul-murder #detective #mystery

Woody slept poorly that night. Ecstatic visions of Maria alternated with premonitions of the horrible tortures that Amerigo Andiamo would subject him to. He had only just drifted off when he was woken up by a tapping at his window.

Could it her? Had he not dreamed the whole thing?

A breath of cold air came in through the window, then he heard the voice. Like the first cold air in autumn.

“Woody?”

Those blue eyes appeared out of the darkness.

“Let’s go,” she said.

Woody climbed out of his window to meet her on the street.

There she was. Just as he had remembered her.

They hailed a cab. They talked on the way.

“You ready to get started on the case tonight?” she said.

“Started?” said Woody. “I thought you said explain. I thought you were going to explain things.”

“Yeah, but that’s no fun. I thought we could get right into the action.” There was that eyebrow again.

“Action?”

“Yeah,” she said. “We’re going to go and spy on my husband. There’s a jazz club on 95th in Harlem that he’s at a lot. If we go there tonight maybe we can catch him out.”

“Why do you need to come with me?” said Woody.

“Don’t you worry about that.”

“There’s an alarming amount of stuff that you don’t want me to worry about.”

When they got to the club, the cab driver turned around in the front seat. “You sure you wanna go to this place?” he said. “It’s a pretty seedy joint.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Maria.

They got out of the cab. Woody had never been to Harlem before. He looked around the street before they went in. Negroes in suits with musical walks greeted each other outside the doorways blaring jazz. On this Friday evening, they seemed more joyful, more full of life than any human beings he’d ever seen.

The club was a place called the Spit Valve. Woody looked over his shoulder as he came in. Would he see Andiamo here?

They sat down at a table.

“So,” said Woody. “You wanna tell me what your husband’s done to make you wanna come to a place like this to spy on him? You know, marriage is generally seen as a positive thing. You know, love, and…”

“Well, I’ve never been in love, so.”

“You were never in love with Phil?”

“No. That wasn’t love.” She eyed him skeptically. “Sex can be so intense that sometimes you think it’s love. But people change.”

“How’d you change?”

“I used to be a normal girl, and now this.”

“Now what? You still look plenty normal to me.”

She rolled her eyes like this was the cheesiest line any guy had ever used on her. She wouldn’t meet his eyes and looked down cynically into her food.

“I’m serious, you’re not so bad. Everyone makes mistakes.”

“You just wanna sleep with me.”

“I don’t see how that changes anything,” Woody said. Lame joke.

“It does. Everyone acts a certain way because they think it’ll make me get in bed with them. They act like I’m an angel.”

“Maybe you are.”

The same eye roll.

“I’m serious,” Woody said. “You’re beautiful, you’re independent. So you’re going through a bad time now. Everybody does at some point in their lives.”

“Maybe. Speaking of bad points, how’d you end up doing paperwork for the police department?”

“Well, I missed a lot of opportunities because of my peanut allergy.”

Woody looked over at the next table, where a large man in an overcoat sat smoking a cigarette. He wore a bowler hat pulled down low over his eyes and the rest of his face was shrouded in smoke. The figure he cut looked familiar to Woody, but he couldn’t place how.

The big band got up on the bandstand and started to play. A crackling intelligence, a sophistication of a kind he’d never known before, seemed to extend through the black skin and the black night through the gleaming horns and back out into the air. It landed in the dancers on the floor—hot and sweaty, shaking and grooving, smelling of humanity.

Woody felt a calm descend over him. His eyes were drawn to Maria’s.

“Would you like to dance?” he said, with more courage than he had ever said a sentence before in his life.

They got up and danced. Her head fell into his shoulder and her hair splayed over his chest. He felt all the fear of the newspaper article and Andiamo melt away. It seemed that it had never been real anyway.

The world of paperwork and phone calls receded further into obscurity. This was a new language. No forms or memos. Just her body against his.

When the song was over, she left him and glided across the room to a group of friends that stood in the corner, off the bandstand.

Suddenly Woody noticed something out of the corner of his eye. The man in the bowler hat stood up from the table quickly. When Woody looked over, he was darting out of the restaurant. Maria noticed too.

“Follow him!” she said.

“Andiamo!” Woody yelled.

“Right, let’s go!” said Maria.

Ignoring this incongruous remark, Woody saw his chance to prove himself to Maria. Borne on by the feeling that had taken him by the soul, Woody followed. The ragged rhythm drew him out the door.

They followed the shadowy figure through dark alleyways… through the steamy New York night. Woody heard jazz in every footstep that he took. His heart and Maria’s heels tapping on the sidewalk were the erratic drums underneath his movements.

At some point, they lost the shadowy character in the night. He could have slipped into a doorway or up a fire escape or into a basement. He was gone.

“Well,” said Maria (panting, flushed, somehow more beautiful than before). “I guess we lost him.”

“Yeah,” Woody agreed.

“Anyway,” she said, looking at him with that strange suggestive look again. “It’s a perfectly good night. We might as well make the most of it.”

To be continued.

Follow Ed at @edjamesking

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Body, Soul, Murder, Part one, by Edward King

#body-soul-murder #comic #detective #noir

Woody Bleeker walked through the rain that dripped through the few narrow cracks that the city left open to the sky. Four years he’d worked this beat. Detective, NYPD. It sounded so glamorous. But all he had to show for it in four years was a drinking problem and bad dreams.

He let himself into his apartment. He took a bottle of scotch from the bureau and poured himself a glass. He was just about to take the first sip when a sound came down the stairs.

“WOODY!”

He stopped, the bottle in his hands.

“What, ma?”

“I got you a new pair of socks!”

“Ma, I told you, I don’t need any more socks right now!”

“Yes you do, all your socks have holes in them!”

“Ma!”

“And there’s still some rice pudding in the fridge, but don’t eat it in your room!”

“I can eat my rice pudding where I want, ma!”

“Don’t talk back to me. And you need to get an early night tonight—you can’t be a big secretary at the police department if you don’t get enough sleep.”

“Ma, I’m not a secretary, I’m a detective!”

“Woody, how long are you going to keep that up? Being a clerk in the detective bureau doesn’t make you a detective!”

%

Work was hell the next day, as always. Woody’s tiny office in the police department was filled to the ceiling with stacks of binders and manila folders. A never-ending stream of cases, of good people making bad mistakes. Until Maria walked in.

She came through the door, her head buried in a book. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. Neruda.

She was beautiful. Eyes like sapphires, artfully sloppy makeup and a French haircut topped off a body to die for entombed in a floral-print dress.

A woman this beautiful had never been in Woody’s office before. He panicked.

“I’m sorry, you must be in the wrong place,” he called. “Sometimes people can’t read the sign—the lettering is starting to come off.”

She didn’t hear him speak. She pulled herself out of her book and noticed Woody.

“Detective?” she said.

“Defective? I would have just said ‘broken’…”

“No, are you Detective Bleeker? My name is Maria Moretti, I was wondering if……”

She was tough on the outside, but Woody thought he could see a spark of innocence hidden behind the exterior. She was just a kid.

“…No, not me,” Woody said. “I’m just Woody Bleeker.”

“But I read about you in the paper. All about how you took care of that mob killer, what was his name, Andiamo. I have the clipping right here. ”

It dawned on Woody that something significant had happened. Whether it was terrible or wonderful, he still didn’t know.

“Can I see that?” he said. “I… need to make sure that they got my middle name right, the spelling is very complicated.”

She handed him the clipping.

MOB KILLER NABBED BY NYPD DETECTIVE WOODY BLEEKER

by Ron Hackman

Detectives arrived at an apartment on 21st and fourth last night to find a pool of blood seeping out from underneath the crack in the door. They entered to find human viscera hung over the dresser. A severed arm swung suspended from the chandelier as a warning to anyone foolish enough to investigate…

Enter Woody Bleeker, the new rising star of NYPD’s detective unit. Bleeker, beaming with pride, explained that the wanton destruction in the apartment was the work of one Amerigo Andiamo, the famous “Butcher of the Mob.”

Andiamo is the Italian mafia’s second most notorious killer, known for sending the family members of his victims smoothies made from their remains.

“Well, I got the dirty bastard,” said Bleeker. “I hope this teaches all the other scum like him that’s out there that the city’s jails are where they belong.”

Andiamo escaped from prison several minutes after this reporter obtained the above quote.

The recent escape leaves the mob’s number one killer, Amerigo Andiamo, on the loose. Andiamo, when reached for comment, told the New York Daily Tribune that he was going to “gut that pig Woody Bleeker the next chance I get.”

Below the article there was a little black and white picture of Andiamo. He was a massive, muscular man, impeccably dressed. He wore a suit and a bowler hat and his face was covered with scars, and he was smiling like he’d just given a kid a skinned knee and enjoyed it.

Woody gulped. This was a frame up. Someone wanted him dead.

He thought it out. If looks could kill, this girl would be a pound of dynamite. She was trouble. But by the looks of it, trouble had already found him, whether he liked it or not. This was turning into a real problem, and he had never been one for math.

“Detective Bleeker?” said Maria.

Woody looked up.

“You were mumbling. Listen, if this is a bad time…”

He shook his head.

“Good. So, I’ve been having some problems with my husband.”

“What kind of problems?” Woody said.

Maria blushed. “Never you mind that,” she said. “But he’s into some dirty business. I think he has connections with the mob. I want to spy on him.”

She looked around at the stacks of papers that filled the cramped office.

“It looks like you could use a break, anyway,” she said. “Why don’t you come out with me tonight and I can explain things better. Pretend it’ll be fun.” She cocked an eyebrow suggestively. Suggesting what, Woody could only guess.

Follow Ed at @edjamesking

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