Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Father Lucifer, Beginning of Chapter 2

Just when the calculus was getting exciting and they were about to prove to me that trig functions were infinitely differentiable, which I'd been worrying about since I was a little bastard, Breit came in. The top of his head was a slightly different shade of brick red because he'd been out in the sun. He looked way too fucking cheerful.
Megan said, "Too big to be a space station, Luke," and I looked down for a second because she'd nearly made me crack up, and if she had, he'd've insisted on having us explain the joke, because no matter what Breit claimed, he had no sense of humor about himself at all.
Behind his thick hornrims, John Breit had baggy eyes that wouldn't have been out of place on a basset hound, and his face was covered with big brown freckles all the way up to that brick-red patch of scalp nested in his messy gray hair. His squidgy, fleshy nose flowed almost down to his thick liver lips. A row of proto-chins hung from his usually-sorta-shaved jaw. He must have had some serious muscle once -- biceps, triceps, and quads stuck out of all that lard—but nowadays his high pants made him look like a cinched-in beach ball.
He stopped to chat with Lang, who for some inexplicable reason liked Breit. They traded a couple obscure jokes (I couldn't hear them, but all their jokes to each other were obscure), laughed, and shook hands about something or other.
Breit waddled on up to the counter. "Take the counter, Megan. Dim, you and I need to talk. "
I trailed after him into the back room. Like I said, he's an asshole, and you'll flap your arms and fly to the moon before you ever hear him say please or thank you. That Dim nickname is his idea, too. Okay, I'm Harold Henry Dimmesdale, and Harold and Henry aren't common names for people my age, but Hal is a nickname for either one. So is Harry, and that would be fine too.
Instead, I am called "Dim" by the man who insists on making people order Hot Wet Redheads and Peter Yankers.
Did I mention he's so ugly his mirror goes blue screen when it hears him coming?
When I first got out of CaƱon, I didn't know a thing about Breit except that Coach Park had talked him into giving me this job; I was prepared to love the guy, and it took almost a week for me to begin to despise him.
In the backroom he handed me a printed list of instructions:
#1. Obtain a Denver Private Investigator's License. Draw from 1919 account.
#2. Obtain a concealed carry permit for Denver. Draw from 1919 account.
#3. Prepare list of persons who pose obstacles to this process for Mr. Breit.
I asked, "What's this 1919 account?"
He handed me a checkbook and an ATM Visa. "The account number ends in 1919. Here's the paperwork; I'll take it in first thing tomorrow morning. I'm setting you up to be a cosigner—you can write checks, use the ATM or the card as needed—'as needed' is defined by 'Would John Breit want me to do this?' If you're not sure, spend it and we'll square it later. I don't want a case going south because you were worried about getting a cab or a hotel room or taking a source to a pricey lunch. I know you're not stupid or dishonest enough to abuse this."
See, even when he was paying a compliment, he had to do it like that, instead of saying something normal like I trust you. Asshole.
But. Oh. Well. I asked, "All right, what's the deadline?"
"Start on it first thing tomorrow and it's okay to be late for your shift to get it done, I can cover. Keep track of your time to the quarter hour. Don't exploit me and don't stint yourself. On this I pay thirty-five an hour plus expenses."
He had definitely gotten my attention.  "Okay," I said, "next question, what's up with number three here on the list?"
"I still have a fair bit of juice in this town," he said, "and you can figure the Denver Sheriff will kick up a fuss about a felon picking up a detective's license and a concealed carry permit, because he's a tight-ass who doesn't really believe in the Second—well, in a better world."
That was a relief. I had been thinking oh jesus fuck, I'm in for ten minutes of his anti-gun-control lecture. But In a better world was the sound Breit emitted when he caught himself before a tirade. For the first month I'd known him I'd wanted to scream "In a better world what?!" but nowadays it was my favorite phrase of his, since it meant he was leaving some topic alone.
He groaned and stretched, or at least he put his arms over his head and sort of flailed backwards like a gigantic baby, and I was guessing that somewhere under all that lard, his spine was decompressing a little. "Christ, I'm old and fat."
I never argue when people are right.
He sighed. "Anyway, anyone tries to roadblock you, call me, I'll make a few calls and teach a new generation of bureaucrats not to fuck with me."
"Sounds good. So—um, we're going into the detective business?" I tried to keep from noticing this was at least not dull and pretty damn cool. Me, a detective, like in the movies. Instead of me, a fucked up ex-con small-college jock, like in real life.
"You're going in, Dim, I'm getting back in. I'm actually licensed in Cali, New York, New Jersey, and Penn. It used to be the main thing I did." He grinned, showing his great big yellow Bucky Beaver teeth. "I need one good guy I can trust to follow my instructions intelligently—or not follow them when that's the intelligent thing to do." Breit's smile signaled ask about this, this is cool, so I shut up and didn't let him catch me looking interested.
I was home just when I said I'd be, which was good because Leigh was defending my dinner. My kid sister had made up two family size boxes of mac and cheese, stirred it up with shredded mozzarella, and thrown in a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, a package of dry onion soup, and a big pack of that fake crab meat that is actually Orange Roughy a la Lawnmower, and had it baking in the oven for an hour, so the whole place smelled good and like regular people food. Now she was standing in front of the oven yelling at Momster that there wasn't fucking time! and anyway nobody shouldn't have to eat none of that organic shit! (She doesn't really talk like that except when she's being the leader of her pack, except when it will piss off Momster, which was what it was doing now).
Momster had gotten it into her head to throw out all that good casserole and serve me up some organic tofu straight from the fridge, on top of a pile of wilted vegetables she'd been meaning to do something with, and pour some weird green glop from the health food store over it.
I said, "Leigh and me are going to have that great casserole she's fixed, because one, I'm hungry, two, Leigh is right and I don't have time, and three, she's a great cook and I want to eat her cooking."
Momster went off to her bedroom to throw things around and yell. Leigh threw three big ladles of that wonderful orangey glop onto my plate and two onto hers while I poured us some orange juice from the fridge. Then she smeared the casserole around a bit so it would cool faster, tossed some Chung King crispy noodles on top and added a generous sprinkling of Wal-Mart Parmesan.
For a few minutes we just shoveled it in. Momster eventually returned silently, got a plate, dished up some of her tofu-and-green-slime salad, and picked at it for a bit; then she took a scoop of the casserole, glaring at it but eating it.
"This is really good," I said, so my sister shot me the finger. She hates me, but if I tell her I like something she cooked, she'll make more of it.
Momster had seconds on the casserole, and so did I. Leigh said, "Momster, tell Mister Jailbird I need nineteen dollars for school art supplies and you didn't have the cash on hand because there was a deal on beer at Scooter's."
I pulled out my wallet and slipped out a twenty; it had been what I'd been planning to eat on the next day, but that's what ATMs are for, and payday was Friday anyway. I slid it across the table to Leigh without looking at her.
"Oh, and Momster, you can also tell Mister Jailbird that I'll be out a little late because I have a rehearsal for the school dance concert."
"Would it be all right for me to attend it?" I said, trying to keep it sounding casual. "I mean, in your opinion, Momster, the concert, not the rehearsal, do you think I could get away with going to it?"
"Oh, good, Mister Jailbird gets a chance to check out the nubile jailbait," Leigh said, "On November 19th at 7:30."
"I'll never remember," Momster said, "they always want me to remember all these dates and times, so fascist. Just tell me on the day."
"That's okay," Leigh said. " Mister Jailbird will get you there. It's part of being the dad he thinks Dad should have been." She shot me the finger again, so I resolved I'd get there—and make Momster come—no matter what.
"You sound very bitchy and harsh and judgmental," Momster said to Leigh.
"She is very bitchy and harsh and judgmental, Momster," I said, and leaned forward to load more delicious orange glop onto the plate. "Also a great cook, and I'm guessing a better than decent dancer. I'm proud as all shit of the evil little bitch."
"Ouch, ouch," Momster said. "Language like that just makes the world harsher."
Leigh was smiling.
I grabbed up my backpack. "Leigh, thanks for telling me you'd be late, and why, and thanks a million for that dinner." Not wanting to stick around after I'd said anything nice to her, and risk her throwing something, I was out the door, across the porch, and down into the old lumpy brown Olds Cutlass Supreme that Breit had advanced me the cash for. I'd thought about getting a DON'T LAUGH IT'S PAID FOR bumper sticker, but I wasn't sure the rusty bumper was strong enough to hold it.