Ellison Noir - K.C.
It was late. Too late to eat and too late to start drinking, so I did both. It had been a hard day, the kind of day that stays with you for weeks at a time.
I threw my hat on the desk and flopped down like a bunny going down the rabbit hole. I retrieved the bottle of cheap whiskey out of the left hand drawer of my desk and poured myself two fingers of a well deserved drink. The amber liquid burned its way down my throat, leaving a self satisfied warm feeling in my belly.
I was enjoying a well deserved buzz, and nearly didn’t notice the bell to my office door ring telling me someone had entered my office.
It was like seeing Willy Wonka’s illegitimate little brother. He was short in stature, and had a head of unruly brown curls. My little candy maker thrust his hand out to shake my hand. I noticed as I took it he had at least six of those wrists bands that people wear to show their support for causes like cancer, autism and lime disease.
He wore dark chinos, a white cotton shirt, and I am sure he had a silver ring on every other finger, including a thumb. What kind of freaky hippy was in my well ordered mess of an office?
“Hi”, he said pumping my hand as if priming a water pump. “My name is Blair Sandburg.” I pulled my hand away, and counted my fingers, hoping I still had all five of them.
“Nice to know kid, but aren’t you up past your bedtime?” I asked as I walked to the kitchen/bar in the corner of the office. Ice was gonna be my dinner tonight, unless this kid would go now.
“I’m sorry to bother you so late Mr. Ellison, but my mother has gone missing and I need help now to find her.” The kid said as fast as he could; I wonder if he knew I was leaving him for the greasy spoon across the street if he didn’t hurry it up, right now.
I rummaged through the all too empty larder, as I answered him. “I am assuming your mother is over 21, and has no ties, besides you.” I finally found a stale package of chips in a drawer, and felt my stomach jump for joy at the mere thought of some kind of food filling it.
I stood and turned to face my new would be client. I figured him to be in his late 20’s or early 30’s. But I could tell by the look on his face my choice of words had been used on him before or more than once. I walked back to my desk, and offered the ill gotten chips to the boy. He declined my too generous offer. Maybe this kid was smarter than I gave him credit for.
He took a deep breath; I now knew that he had told this story more than once, because it came out like a rehearsed monologue from an 8th grade speech class.
“Okay, my mother and I are not as close as we should be, or as most single mothers and only children are, but she always lets me know when she is coming to town and when she is leaving. On top of that she never stays more than a week, which is fine, because I don’t think I could take her as a houseguest longer than that….” His voice trailed off. He turned his back to me, and I could smell a change in his body chemistry. It smelled like embarrassment and regret. Not a good combination.
He drew a deep breath for strength; if it had been me, a lit cigar would have done the trick.
“You see, I am a graduate student, I am working on my doctorate on sentinels….”
I don’t think I heard much after that. My blood ran so cold I felt like a tacky ice sculpture at my cousin Rose’s last wedding. I had been keeping my own abilities as a sentinel quiet, since I was in the military. Too many people are willing to put you in too much danger because of your heightened senses. I didn’t know this kid from Mrs. Smith’s cat, so I was suddenly worried that his mother was not the only reason he came to see me.
The boy continued jabbering away. “Mom loved the idea that I was going to get a doctorate on something so….Native…” He put his hand up, to stop me from asking why “native”. Sandburg shook his head and kept going “I have no idea with what she meant by that, with Mom, you really don’t know, and don’t want to know.
He stopped pacing and flopped down in my one and only client chair. “Mr. Ellison, this is the reason I have so much trouble getting anyone to help me when it comes to my mother…..She is a Freaking Flake!”
I choked on my last stale chip as I began to laugh. While I was choking and sipping some more whiskey to catch my breath, Sandburg started telling me about his history with his mother. “Okay she is harmless, but a tiring kind of harmless. “
I finished my “dinner”, and threw the empty chip bag into the trash can, and waited for him to finish.
I wiped my mouth with my sleeve as he went on; “My mother is to new age anything what Elvis was to Rock and Roll. From my hemp diapers at birth, to the macramé tux she tried to get me to wear for my prom, Mom has been kind of a pain in my side. But she really hasn’t been too hard to handle until recently.”
The kid stood up and began pacing as if his life depended on it. He took a huge breath and went on; “Last week she showed up on my door, unannounced as per her style. She breezed through the door as if she owned the place and announced that she would be staying with me for an undisclosed amount of time.”
He stopped and faced me; “I am not going to lie to you Mr. Ellison…I was horrified when she told me that she was going to be my house guest indefinitely.”
I could hear his heart beat and I knew he was telling the truth, and I could relate. I had an ex-wife that would have the gall to do that to me.
“So we have been living together, Mom seemed fine with the arrangement, and me? I was wondering on a daily basis if I could kill myself by cutting my wrists with a grapefruit spoon.”
I began to smile until I saw the look on his face and saw that he was not kidding. Sandburg finished his story and I started to wonder if I ever was going to see my bed again.
“A week ago Mom told me that she was going to visit her healer and would be home late, I haven’t seen her since.”
Now if it hadn’t been for the tired look on the kid’s face and how defeated he looked in general I would have read him the riot act, kicked him out of my office and made a date with my pillow….But no, that would have been the easy thing to do….Why don’t I do easy?
I sighed; “Okay kid, the last you know she was going to see her doctor……”
“Healer.” He interrupted me….”
“Whatever give me their name and number and I will start from there.”
For the first time since he had arrived at my door the little Willy Wonka seem relieved, I hope I didn’t let the midget down.
I woke up promptly at noon; it had been almost three in the morning by the time I got the Sandburg kid calmed down and out of my office.
I dragged myself through the shower and got a quick bite at the greasy spoon down the way from my loft. I borrowed the phone book from Rosie, my favorite waitress, and looked up the so called “healer” that Momma Sandburg used.
I couldn’t believe that the kid hadn’t been kidding, but there it was in bold print; “Max Gold’s Healing and Car Wash Services” I closed the phone book and wondered if I was totally crazy for pursuing this.
I got into my truck, and headed over to Naomi Sandburg’s last known destination.
I pulled up to a rather strange building. It looked like an old fast food joint that was combined with a VW bus. A hand painted sign outside read “Veteran’s get a 30% discount on hand car washes or a 40% discount on healing”.
For some reason I wasn’t too surprised when I got a scent of old bong water and carnauba car wax as I got out of my vehicle. I mumbled “Of course.” as the smell assaulted my senses.
I walked into the front door and was met by a sixty something man. He looked a bit like George Carlin. His hair was long and white; he dressed like it still was 1968. His peace symbol chain banged against his love beads and he turned to greet me.
“Hello Brother” he said with an upbeat smile and attitude. He was so nice he almost made me happy I had come all this way….I said almost. The sweet scent of bong water was even stronger here and all around me, I nearly had a buzz from shaking his hand.
“What can I do for you friend?” he asked me. I showed him my P.I. badge. “My name is Jim Ellison, and I am looking for a Naomi Sandburg. She has been missing for about a week.”
The man I now assumed was Max Gold, looked kind of stricken, like I had slapped him and told him that his mother wore army boots…Well considering how the place looked I was sort of sure his mother did wear army boots.
“Sorry friend I don’t know the name. How about I do a detail job on your truck so your trip won’t go to waste?”
The smell of fear rolled off of him in waves, I knew he was lying, and I knew he was scared, I pushed him a bit.
“Thank you sir, but I really want to see Ms. Sandburg,” I leaned close to the old hippy, with just his counter between us, and said in my most menacing voice. “And I mean now.”
He took a step back, and I could hear his heart beat speed up. “Listen friend, I told you that Naomi, wasn’t here, since you seem not to want to have your truck washed, you need to go…..”
With that I leaped over the counter, normally I don’t do things that flashy, but I had been up far too late with Naomi Sandburg’s son, and frankly I just don’t like being lied too.
I pulled my gun to threaten good old Max, and before I could pull back the hammer, I heard a woman’s voice from behind the curtain that was between us and the backroom. “Don’t you dare hurt him!”
From behind the curtain came little Willy Wonka’s mother. She was tall, although she was lean like her son. Her hair was straight unlike his and red where her son’s was brown.
“You will let go of my friend now, young man!” I holstered my weapon, and stepped back from Max.
Both Max Gold and Naomi breathed a sigh of relief, as I stepped back and tried to figure out what the hell was going on.
Ms. Sandburg spoke first. “All right, I know where you’re from, and there is no reason to hurt Max, he doesn’t know anything, and will not tell anyone that you have been here. If you promise not to hurt him I will go with you.”
I looked to her and then to Max; “What the hell are you talking about? I’m here because your son has been worried sick about you.”
I sat on the counter and waited to be enlightened. She was the first one to speak, naturally. “Blair sent you? Oh good God, I never sent anyone after him in all the years he ran away….” Max interrupted her. “What are you talking about? “Ran Away?! He went to collage Naomi! That is not running away, that is getting a freaking education!”
Suddenly Naomi ignored me and turned her attention to Max. “Max when I want your ideas how to raise my son I will rattle your cage.” Max retaliated with; “Naomi the boy is thirty! He is raised, grown and out the door, give him some peace.”
Naomi let out a cry of frustration, and turned her back on Max, and now it was my turn to get her fury. “Okay buster how do you know my son?”
I tried not to laugh at the dippy hippy, but I still kind of snickered as I told her how her son had been looking for her, and finally had to give up, and hired me.
“Now, if you won’t mind telling me, how come you’re ignoring your son after barging in on his home and life?”
“I wasn’t barging in, I was visiting my son….Okay, it’s like this, I have a group of friends that…let’s just say procure certain pharmaceuticals for AIDS patients.”
She walked around the counter and sat on the over stuffed worn chair that was in the corner of the shop. I watched as Naomi dropped into the chair and let her head drop into her hands.
I jumped off the counter and stood in front of the woman. She didn’t look up as I spoke, “Let me get this straight, you were on a pot buying mission, and either you got caught by the cops and are on the run, or you did something stupid, and now a dealer is looking for you.”
She looked up slowly; “That marijuana is for pain, it isn’t for pleasure. People need it to survive another day….”
I shook my head, “That’s all well and good, but you disappeared on your son, and yet you seemed shocked that someone came looking for you. What happened?”
Max stepped forward; “Tell him, you need help, more than I can give you here.”
Suddenly Naomi Sandburg’s shoulders slumped, as if all the air was let out of her body just like a kid’s balloon at a Chucky Cheese.
“It was supposed to be a drop, just like all the drops I have made before for my people. This time there was a problem, a big problem….” Her voice trailed off, she lifted her head to look at me dead in the eye. “My source, was a wonderful man; he was selling me two bricks of pot for fifty dollars. Do you know how much that would have gotten him on the streets?”
I knew and I shook my head to tell her I did know, her supplier would have gotten many times more than what he was getting from her. She went on, “All he wanted to do was help people in pain. But I had known that he was getting pressured to start growing and selling for the local mob. I should have told him to lay low, I would have found some place else to buy….” She stood up and went to her friend Max for comfort.
Max held her and told her this wasn’t her fault. I still wasn’t clear on the details and told them so; “Okay, you made the drop, what happened next?”
Naomi turned to face me, “No sooner had I handed him his money, and he gave me his bricks, two men pulled up in a large sedan. Steve, my supplier, pushed me behind his car.” She stifled a sob.
I heard gun fire, and then someone yelling ‘stop’. Before I knew it, car tires were squealing, and Steve was dead.”
As she finished her story, I could see her age twenty years in front of me. “I got in to Steve’s car and took off as fast as I could. I came here, because Max is kind of off the beaten path, I didn’t want to lead those guys anywhere near my son.”
I took this story all in and still had some questions, okay when didn’t I have questions? “So you left your car there?” She nodded grimly. So now I figured that the bad guys knew who she was by her car registration.
“Okay, so where is Steve’s car now?”
Max answered, “It’s behind the store; I have it covered with a tarp.”
“Max and I were worried that you had been sent by them to hurt me?”
“Why?” I asked.
“Well you look like you just got out of the army.” She replied.
“Army Ranger” I corrected her.
Max had to put his two cents in; “Well of course I thought you were one of them, being part of the fascist’s establishment.
I wanted to punch the draft dodging hippy, but instead I turned to Sandburg’s mother, “Can you identify the men that shot your friend?” She nodded her head and with a nod towards the front of the store, in a voice too far too calm; “Yes, that’s them coming up from the parking lot.”
I turned to look out the front window, and saw two men that looked like they came from the John Gotti collection. They were getting out of their car, and I figured I had two minutes tops to figure out how to keep all three of us alive. First I had to get rid of the hippies.
I took off my coat, and began rolling up my sleeves. “Max I am going to have to borrow these.” I pointed to his love beads. He quickly took them off and handed them to me. I put them on, pulled out my shirt tails, and started giving Max and Naomi instructions.
“Both of you get into the back and dial 911, and for God’s sake, do not come out here no matter what you hear, hopefully I can get rid of these guys quickly, if you can get out of the back unseen, even better.”
I ushered the two out of the counter area, and did my best to look like a retired military man, who wanted to get back to nature. Of course the closest I had gotten to nature was the olive in the martini I had gulped down last Saturday night at Sullivan’s Pub.
I took my gun, and placed it within easy reach behind Max’s counter. The two morons, of the local crime syndicate were checking to see if their guns were loaded within fifty feet in front of the door. How did they live this long? Even if it had been Max or Naomi standing here, instead of me, I am fairly sure they would have had time to get away or at the very least ducked a bullet.
But I wanted to make sure these two knuckleheads would be here when the cops came, so I busied myself dusting Max’s herbal cures and car wax.
Finally Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dumb came through the front door. “Good morning friends.” I said in my best Max Gold voice.
The dumber of the two, and that is saying a lot here, growled “You don’t look Jewish.” And for some reason this insulted me, and I knew that kicking these idiots butts was gonna be fun….
“Well”, I replied as modestly and as friendly as I could, “I don’t look African American either, that doesn’t mean I’m not.” And I smiled as pleasantly as I could. I could hear their heartbeats drum faster as I teased them. I knew I was ticking them off; good. For some reason I wasn’t too worried, I had my Glock inches away.
Moron number one, turned to moron number two, and said “Look the heb hippy is makin’, jokes with us.” Now I knew I was going to hurt these off spring of first cousins.
“What can I get you boys today? Car detailing, wart removal, perhaps a nice waxing for your sister’s mustache…”
The leader of the two grabbed me by my shirt collar, and tried to pull me over the counter. I say “tried”, because he was half my height and I think the only weight he had lifted besides his gun, was a pastrami sandwich. I could smell it on his breath.
“Listen asshole, we are looking for Naomi Sandburg and we heard she is stayin’, here.” The smell of the garlic pickle he had with his lunch nearly made me wilt.
“Now what would make you fine gentlemen think that Ms. Sandburg was staying here?” I said as my fingers itched to pull the trigger of my gun, but I wanted to play this out and see what kind of sources the local crime boss had working for him.
“We been keeping an eye on her son, when that didn’t pan out we started checking on her credit receipts, and low and behold every business she has been too is on this street, and everyone says she is staying with you, Maxie.”
I guess the mob had computerized, nice to see them coming into the 21st century.
“Naomi does not ‘stay’ here; she merely comes to pick up some of my remedies.” And still this piece of excrement had not let go of my collar.
He turned to his twin twit and said; “Now do we believe him, Sam?” and then turned back to me, giving me a fresh whiff of his lunch pickle. “I don’t think I do.” And pulled back a hand to punch me; I was done being nice.
I hit him as hard as I could under his rib cage then took my other hand and pried it from my shirt collar. I took his thumb and twisted it and enjoyed the cry of pain he let out. I wondered how many times he had inflicted pain just for the joy of it.
His partner, Sam, finally remembered to pull out his 45 and aimed it at me. “Let him go now!” he growled at me, but he wasn’t quite fast enough.
Without letting my new friend go, I grabbed my gun and shot Sam in the leg. I held on to the first twit, and told both of them “See what happens when you piss off a black Jew?”
The police arrived a few minutes later. I found Naomi and Max in the back hiding, holding cast iron skillets for weapons. You gotta love peaceniks…..
I reunited Blair Sandburg and his mother a few hours later. I still wonder if I did the little chief a favor by bringing her back. I gave the kid my old rate; I figured a master’s student didn’t have a lot of money lying around.
I let myself back into my office and was amazed that it had been only a day since the little man had rushed into my office, and was grateful I wouldn’t see him again….Or so I thought…….
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Acknowledgments: Thank you to Patt and Margaret for the help with the story and to Ankaree for the lovely cover art.