Blood on the Tracks
by Mark Slade
Detective Harris returns to O'Leary's bar where he used to drown his sorrows. Now, sober and tormented by the loss of his beloved wife, he stumbles upon the last thing he expected to find.
O’Leary’s bar smelled of piss and vomit. I stood in the doorway, tried to revoke the smell from my nostrils.
I used to frequent this joint a few years ago, before Ginger’s death. I drank pretty hard back then. I would wake up at five in the morning, have a few glasses of Hamilton’s bourbon. On the way to work I’d have a splash of gin. For lunch, I always had a few beers with my partner Kitna. Get home and wind down with a few more beers and catch a game on TV before getting into bed with Ginger. That’s how my day went.
I don’t drink anymore. Not after Ginger died.
Most men, after their wives met their end, started dinking more. At least the ones I know. Not me. It sobered me up good. Real good. Of course the men I usually deal with are turds anyway. The kind of scum you read in the paper they were fried in the electric chair, or given the more humane lethal injection, and you wouldn’t even care they died.
At least I can say I never mourned them. Never really cared for anyone else but Ginger.
Ginger was a good girl until she met me. I know the papers have said other things. I don’t care. I’m not talking about social niceties in western civilization. I’m talking about a lovely, nice person, who almost always helped others, even if they weren’t friends or family. I know that she sold herself on occasion. She had to do what she had to do. That’s how we met. I enjoyed her on occasion as well, but it was always gentle, even when it was rough.
I walked up to the bar and George looked at me, not recognizing me at first. “Holy shit!” He exclaimed, sat down a shot glass he was rinsing out. “Detective Harris?”
“What’s up George?” I said, sat on a stool. “Place never changes.”
“Yep, Detective,” George laughed. “Still smells like piss and vomit. What can I get you?”
“Nothing, George.” I told him. “I quit drinking.”
George was stunned. “No shit,” his eyes grew big in his disbelief. “Hey, how about a coke, huh? To celebrate your sobriety?”
“Sounds good, George.”
George was a good guy. We had a run in once a year or so ago. I caught him selling alcohol to two minors. I couldn’t prove it, I do think George was trying to get him some from those two college girls. We settled things by him making three payments of five hundred dollars. I didn’t really need the money, I just wanted to make a point to him. Ever since then, George has been a sweetheart.
He brought me that coke, smiling from ear to ear. I took a five out of my coat, handed it to him.
“Nawa….Detective! This one’s on the house.”
I smiled, saluted him. “Thank you, George.”
“Not a problem, Detective. Not a problem at all. How’s the Police business?”
“Dirty,” I told him. “As dirty as it ever was.”
“Working on something?” George was getting curious, too curious. But I wanted to remain friendly. I wanted to tell him about Ginger. I thought better of it. Save it for a bookend conversation right before I leave.
“Several things at once, George.” I said, sipped my Coke. “Always busy. Too busy to tell lies.”
“Isn’t that the truth,” George giggled. “That’s a saying my old man had. He had another saying too. Uh,” he had to think about it, the wrinkles on his dopey face were moving about, arranging and rearranging as his mind went to work. “Yeah, uh…idle hands are the devil’s workshop? Something like that,” George laughed. “Whatever the hell that meant!”
A decrepit old drunk at the end of the bar got George’s attention, called him away from me. Thank God. I was getting irritated by him.
There wasn’t a lot of people in the bar. A few were standard barflies. I remember them from the drunk years. The guy at the end of the bar, nursing a Manhattan, still wearing his hair like Moe Howard. There was Tina over at the out- of date- jukebox, fawning over her newest one night stand. In the corner booth was a guy and a girl huddled close together, enjoying a sandwich, kissing and touching each other under the table once in a while.
I smiled at that. Nothing wrong with young love. That’s what keeps the human race moving on.
I see this guy sitting at a table in the back, dressed in a black sports jacket, checked shirt, green slacks and Nikes. He was wearing a bad toupee, you know, the ones that never fit over the bald spot? Anyways, I get to thinking I know this guy, I’d seen him before. Then it hit me.
“Son of a bitch,” I whispered.
He was Ginger’s killer……I know it……I just….know it…..
I remember hearing he was her last John before the Landlady found her bruised, naked body lying on our living room floor. I was told she was lying there with her neck broken. I was removed from the case, and Kitna took over. He kept me clued in until he thought I was acting too crazy, irrationally headlining the witnesses.
After my first interview with him, this guy bails—leaving town. No one could find him, until now. Here he is, right under my nose, and I have no idea what to do next.
Our eyes locked. I knew what he was thinking. Why is this guy staring at me? He knows something about me that I don’t want others to know.
At first he seemed angry that I was staring. Then he became nervous, nearly knocked over his beer. He fidgeted in his chair, tugging at the sleeves of his sports jacket. He looked away, sighing several times. He took his phone from his trouser pocket, sprinting through a series of texts. He had the most annoying ring tone: the theme to ‘I dream of Jeannie’.
Suddenly, he shot up from his chair, pushed it in with his foot, and began walking out of the bar.
I stood, placed a twenty on the bar.
“Heyyyyy! Detective!” I heard George’s voice from behind, as I exited O’Leary’s. “I told you the Coke was on the house—come back! Hey! Your money is no good here!”
I didn’t stop to acknowledge George. I was busy trying to catch up to the man in the checkered sports jacket.
Even though he had a small limp, the tall, lanky man walked at a pace that a trotting small horse would find unnaturally hard to keep up with.
I followed him down Grover Avenue and into an alley, back on Grover, crossing Pine Meadow where the old city hospital used to be. Now it’s just an empty steel shell with major construction holes on every floor. I kept following him. He had to have known I was behind him. He tried hard to shake me, leading me to Vine and Henry, where all the small shops sat by the pier. We circled around, was Grover again via the intersection across from the primary school and baseball diamond.
I knew where we were going. He was taking me to the train tracks to A: lose me, or B: have some cronies of his jump me, beat me to a pulp and possibly rob me before they defiled my broken body.
I didn’t care. I knew someone was going to get hurt.
He was getting tired, slower. I was getting faster, pushed by pure adrenaline.
He was on his phone, waving his hands frantically. When I got closer to him, I could hear him screaming in the phone.
“Murry! You don’t understand! I can’t shake him! Send some help!” He stopped walking. We were now by a junkyard, but still out on the train tracks. “This guy must know something about the stash! I don’t know if he’s not a cop or…”
My fist smashed into his nose. He screamed, dropped his phone and staggered backwards. Sounded like a wounded animal caught in a trap. Blood splattered his chin jacket lapels. He tried to block another punch, but I was too quick, caught him in his bulging left eye. He fell just as that damned God-awful toupee slipped off his head, revealing a huge scar on top a shiny bald spot. He landed on his back, legs kicking in the air.
I was so fucking mad, all I could see was steam rising from the hot ground, clouding my vision.
“Barry?” I heard a female voice carry on from the phone speaker. “Barry?! Are you alright?!”
I stepped on the phone, crushing it with my heel. The phone went dead. I took a few steps toward the man and started scuttling away backwards, pushing with his hands and ass, making tracks in the dirt and leaves. He got as far as the left train track when I kicked him in the face. His bottom teeth shattered, blood poured out of his mouth. He looked up at me, begging for an answer.
“Why?” He struggled to speak. “Why?”
I didn’t answer him. He didn’t deserve an answer. ‘sides….he knew why and he knew who I was. He was just prolonging the inevitable. Melodrama needs to be mocked.
I kicked him again, the point of my boot landed in his right chin, caving it in. His right eye popped out and hung just above the bridge of his nose, swinging back and forth like a slinky caught on a stairwell peg.
I drove that boot into his forehead a few more times, each time the back of his head smashed into a railroad spike.
I sat down beside the dead man, lit a cigarette. We watched the sun go down together.
I found myself back at O’Leary’s again after wandering the streets aimlessly, feeling satisfied.
I sat on a stool and George made a b-line for me. “Detective Harris. Your back,” he said, chipper than he should’ve been.
“Yeah,” I said, beat.
“Get you another Coke?”
“Nah, George,” I inhaled, exhaled briefly. “Get a Tonic and Flatbush whiskey.”
George looked at me incredulously. “You sure?”
“Yeah,” I nodded.
“You just celebrated—“
“Get me the drink I ordered,” I yelled. He was irritating the shit out of me. So was the heat. Ninety-fucking six degrees out there, after the sun went down. Even the stupid elevator music version of The White Stripes ‘seven nation army’ was irritating me. “And change that damned God-awful fucking music, will ya?”
“I’ll get you your Flatbush whiskey and Tonic, Detective. But I can’t do nothing about the music. Corporate rules. Sorry.”
A short, pudgy man in a lime green overcoat sat next to me. “Detective?” He asked. “Is that what he’s been telling people again?” I noticed a patrolman was standing behind him, looking like he had gas pains and his shaky hand sitting on his weapon.
“What the hell are you doing here, Kina?” I rubbed my forehead, closed my eyes.
“Still getting those headaches huh?” He snickered. “Been looking for you, my friend.”
George sat the glass in front of me. “Here you go Detective Harris.”
Kitna laughed. “He told you he was Detective Harris and I bet he told that tired old story about his wife being murdered and he was looking for the murderer?”
George brushed his lips with a hand. “He said he was a police detective, but he didn’t mention the other part. Say…who are you? Another cop?”
“No,” Kitna said. “I’m Dr. Kitna. He’s a patient mine from Westside Brookes.”
George gasped. “The mental hospital?”
“Yeah. He ran away from us this morning. We were taking him to the new Hospital for his radiation treatment. Finally tracked him here.”
The Patrolman motioned for me to get up. He removed his handcuffs from his belt. “That won’t be necessary,” Kitna said. “He’s not violent.”