Stories

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.”

%

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?”

0
Send to Kindle
Standard
Stories

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.

1+
Send to Kindle
Standard
Stories

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

0
Send to Kindle
Standard