A Crowded Funeral by David Moynihan
For Tom Nugent
You can tell it's important by the number of rings. Four licks and a
hangup means computerized, somebody trying to get money from you, either
what you owe or what they want you to owe. The line rang more than eight
times at least twice that dazed afternoon, in excess of what even family
would do if somebody'd died.
"Oh my God, it's really you?"
"Too early to get philosophical. You are?"
"Mr. Gaston, you don't know me..."
"Right. Anyway, you don't know me, but I'd heard you would be the
"My rates for medical transcription on short notice are buck-fifty a
page. Two-fifty if the intoner is a non-native speaker."
"No, Mr. Gaston, it's not about that. You still freelance, don't you?"
"Call myself one in bars. Guess I still do it."
"Yes. Wonderful. I have a story for you."
"I'm not going to Vegas."
"Why would you -- oh no. I don't see any reason for you to go to Nevada,
"All the conventions are there. Some people like it. Some don't. I don't
gamble that much. Don't like it."
"No, Mr. Gaston. This job is in Baltimore. "
"The job's in Baltimore, hon. Where are you?"
"Absorbed a lot of the local culture, haven't you? What exactly do you
"I work as a section editor, did they call it 'metro' when you were
"Not to its face. Have you people laid off the entire staff? I know the
cost-cutting and using news services thing was getting out of hand, but
that's a little ridiculous, even for your parent corporation."
"We have over 500 employees, Mr. Gaston."
"Great. What do you want me for?"
"I'd been told you used to live in Union Square?"
"Nobody calls it that."
"What do you call it?"
"Hollins Market. Little Lithuania. Pigtown, with better luck. Sowebo.
Anything else you could mumble your way through and explain to a cabbie
when drunk. They finally torch the whole place? Need some remembrances?"
"No, it's still alive and well."
"Really? They'd ripped up Dash Hammett's old house to make room for a
ManorCare. Closed the Mencken dive on lack of funds. Figure Russ Baker's
abode will soon be a mini-mall. Poe's place is still in a war zone.
Can't be going that good. Still got to ask, what do you need me for?
I've crossed the line. Live south. You know, Potomac River, Civil War,
Mason-Dixon, cigarettes under 2 bucks a pack? Got to have somebody
"But it's a story no one here seems to quite understand, Mr. Gaston. And
we've already had difficulty getting people to talk to us."
"We've done that. It's something special."
"And that is."
"There's been a murder."
"That's stunning. Hold on. I'm going to need a moment for recovery."
I left the receiver off the cradle, lit a Camel, wished I posessed a
small mammal to amuse me in these trying times. Just when you start to
get interested, turns out the person on the other end is absolutely
"That's the place. Yes."
"They have 50 or so of them every year there, you know? Pretty
"Who was it?"
"Someone. Name of Fontana. You know him?"
"Not really. Might recognize the face. He get messed up?"
"Yeah. But how?"
"They found him outside his apartment, off of Baltimore St."
"White or black?"
"Well, explains the story interest."
"I didn't quite understand that."
"You will if you ever want to move up. And what's so special about him?
Rich parents? Trying to set up a party house with cheap rent? Or was he
a DJ Jazzy Trevor?"
"A DJ what?"
"A wannabee? You know, white kid waits for the parents' SUV to pull up
in the driveway, walks into the house with a guy he met downtown, guy is
of African descent, so the kid says something like 'yo mama, Jamal and
me, we tight.' Then they take the truck, drive out to some booze shop,
score a couple of 40s, talk about how bad they are -- wait, that's not
quite right. The white guy talks about how bad he is. The black guy sits
there amused, as long as somebody else is paying for the beer. Then I
guess he got capped."
"No, it wasn't like that. There seems to be something authentic about
"He didn't rap, did he?"
"Wonderful. And the authentic thing is?"
"So far more than 2,000 people have paid respects to his body. More
coming every hour."
"And y'all couldn't get one decent interview."
"Everyone says they liked him. No one says why."
"Bring it up with the next focus group: credibility among city
"Three articles. We'll pay you some upfront. Plus travel, if you have a
lead, or know where he came from."
"I'm so tantalized. Gimme 50 cents a word."
"Or I can add greatly to my already vast store of knowledge in the field
of proctology and urology. Getting to the point where I can turn myself
into a failed med student instead."
"And... might want you to cover housing in the area."
"Well, agreed. Where's the body?"
"Arlington St. By the market. Know the place?"
"Yeah. Got drunk there a few times."
"We won't be paying you for that, Mr. Gaston."
"Don't worry. I'll throw it in free."
"You've had a problem with that in the past. Or don't you remember?"
"Yeah. But of course I never drank as much as I thought I did. Besides,
it wasn't 'cause of that I left when the night shift closed."
"Really. What was it then?"
"They offered me your job with the day crowd. Had too much respect for
myself to take it. Glad to see you're not suffering under any such
"Mr. Gaston, I have a degree in journalism..."
"How many internships?"
"How many internships did you do?"
"Yeah. Ever hear of the six-interview paradigm?"
"Uh-huh. For any job, there's a maximum number of interviews. One
interview, that's so you check the person out. Second interview, that's
so, if it's up in the air, you can debate about salary. Six interviews,
you know what those are meant to find?"
"Someone who'll sit through six interviews. Or three internships. You've
made my day, babe."
"Because I've given you a job?"
"No. Because I now know somebody's life is worse than mine. What's your
"OK, Janice. I'll call you. Have some money ready. I'll be at the site
in an hour. How long's the body supposed to stay?"
"One more day. But then, they've been saying that a while."
"Sure. I believe it. I'll hurry. Thank God it's not late summer."
"Why? Dangerous area?"
"No honey. Body. Summer. Baltimore. No AC. Heat. Smell."
"Maybe you'll learn about that in grad school."
So touchy. At least she didn't mind being called 'honey.' Sometimes you
want to slap yourself and shriek "where, where do they get them?," but
then you realize they're everywhere, and the only thing you can do is
purchase the most time-intensive computer games, hopefully at a
I ate a lingering breakfast, gassed up the car, made it to the site two
hours after I said I would. Wasn't any hurry; guy'd been dead for a
Nothing prepared me for the masses. Bodies packed tight like an Asian
subway. It was one of those dive bars with too much ambition. I'd lived
in the area back when it was a restaurant. Kept hearing stories about
cook's feet tumbling down through the floor. Thought those stories were
funny, 'til you considered what might be coming up those same holes; the
line "rodents the size of aardvarks" has never been formally attributed,
but as a descriptor it quickly caught on.
These days the dive, Gypsy's, it was called, not much visible on the
windows save dust in mass quantity, had pretty much given up on the food
thing. Tables and chairs had been removed to make way for six
strategically placed draw poker machines. No doubt they paid out, but in
an unusual gesture of tact, for that region at least, the bells and
whistles had been turned off.
Nearly impossible to move, so I wedged myself next to a fireplace and
settled in for people watching. Everyone was there. In that whole town,
anyone who wasn't anyone was either in the building or mewing outside in
the courtyard. They'd used to hold an arts festival, maybe still did,
where you'd get a crowd, otherwise the neighborhood lay dead save for
public assistance Fridays.
Fontana lay some distance from me, all I could see was the box and the
line of respect-payers. Part of me was about to gasp that the place
couldn't even support a funeral home anymore when an old lady nearby
mentioned that he'd wanted it in a place like this, and she was quite
happy to oblige. As she continued detailing the extent of her sacrifice,
pausing momentarily to provide change for one of her barmaids, I
realized I knew her.
"Gaston? Oh my goodness. I'd never thought I'd see you again. Now you
just wait right here a moment.
Committed to my first tale-teller, I sat musing over the concept of
urgent delay, noted with amazement how the peculiar dexterity of Joan's
voluminous hips, clothed in a garish wrap skirt, enabled her to swerve
and duck obstacles in a way younger lasses never could. Somebody was
testing out a microphone, though, and as more folks made their way in, I
wondered if she could get back to me.
"And to think..." microphone wasn't quite working. Figured I ought to
"And to think the folks at Hammer's turned down the boy. Said he could
never pack a big club."
Drew some laughter, little of what you might call release applause. The
speaker was lean, some kind of goatee, artwork on both arms, too far
away to tell what was pierced.
"Guess we all knew the boy, right? Hope you were friends. Tough luck if
he owed ya money."
"Just kidding. Show of hands, get 'em up if you owed something to him."
Lot of hands. Serious amount of hands. Guy touched people. Understood
that. Heck, I owed him the next month's rent. So I put my hand up too.
Ya learn to fit in.
"Now y'all know ole Jack, he can't be staying 'round here much longer.
It's been cool and all, but the boy's been here three days. Besides, all
kinds of folks showing up here, sooner or later the police might
remember people actually live here, this far away from the water, and
nobody wants that..."
"But I wanted to start out, we've gotten some cards for Jack, some phone
calls coming in, amazing how many people have heard about something you
don't hear about outside. So we're going to read off some messages,
things we pulled off the 'Net. Who's first? Amy, come up..."
Joan had rejoined me.
"This guy, Fontana, he had a webpage? I'd need to look that up."
"No, Gaston. My, you're all business. Haven't seen you in ages, you
never called, you didn't write, don't you care about us?"
"Joan, it was time to go, I'd had it here..."
"I know you did. I know that about you. Why you're here now. They needed
"Yeah. Somebody who can spend time on it, but not have the clout if they
doctor it up. They will doctor it up, of course."
"Some people, Gaston. You know you're never going to see the last of
them. You just know they're coming back."
"Maybe explains why all those women were just friends with me."
"Or maybe it was the game... them hitting me with everything, feigning
disinterest, while trying to figure out if it was worth it, me acting
the good listener while trying to hide the fact that I wasn't paying
"I missed you. Why'd you have to go?"
"One of those things, all the bars closed around here, 'cept yours.
"Yes. We both know that."
"Right. So once I left yours, only choices I'd have would be behind
"So me drinking behind plexiglass, nothing but American, and most
products out of St. Louis would have hit the crowd as too yuppie."
"Sooner or later, I'd have ended up snorting something, Joan. Might be
coke, might be heroin, might just be a wicked blend of rat poison
somebody told me about, but I'd end up snorting something. I like my
"Yes. I see. But it's lonely here without everybody."
"Yes. That it is. It's been good for business. And let me tell you, the
business could really use it. I'm brick rich..."
"But cash poor?"
"You do remember. Right. Forgot that about you. They still won't let us
have concerts here."
"You heard him play?"
"A few times. He was very good, you know."
"He write lyrics?"
"Not that I know of. Wasn't much of a singer that I can recall."
"So what did he play? Bass, lead, drums? Always figured, if there was
anybody who'd get a crowd, have to have more personality than that one
drummer who used to work for you."
"Rob you mean? He's long gone."
"Rob. Still eat glass?"
"He said he'd given that up. It was a part of his charm, wasn't it?"
"That and the questions he'd ask you."
"I'd forgotten his questions, they were... unique."
"Would you make love to female celebrity X, if she had the head of male
"Oh yes. That was... Rob."
"But we're not here for him. Fontana like that?"
"Well, he could be funny, yes?"
"Easy-going, accessible guy?"
"He was like -- there was this boy grew up around here. Always had his
head in a book. Know the type?"
"And the boy was driven, kept finding knowledge, and searching, he was a
joy for us to watch. Fontana was like that, I think. Only he was better
than that other boy. He could relate to people. He made them feel...
easy. Does that help you any?"
"I think so. Made them feel easy. I can deal with that. Yeah. Joan, it
"But of course, I didn't know him all that well. Knew more about him,
really. You'll find better friends of his here. Even Porky knew him
better than me. You really ought to talk to him. But come and see me
This was something of an admission. Joan was one of those people who
prided herself on knowing everything about everything, or at least
saying she did. Porky was a neighborhood type, been around for more than
60 years, still went by the nickname he'd earned when he got caught in
the mule barn, as a teenager, engaging in recreational bestiality.
Either the years or the crowd had made Joan mostly honest.
"OK. Last thing, who was the speaker?"
"Him. Oh, his name's Branson. Lou Branson. He and Fontana were friends,
I guess. Don't know him at all."
"But he's leading it?"
"Yeah. He's a real funny guy. Tells great stories."
"Don't mention it."
Thought I'd have to make an appointment with the head mourner, but as it
happened, Branson came to me before I could even grab a beer.
"You the one covering this?"
"Yeah, name's Gaston. You know him?"
"Partly. Mostly I came for the food."
"Funny. How'd you know him?"
"I run things at the clubs here. You meet folks."
"He ever play for you?"
"Sometimes. Not the same scene."
"Scene. How much do whippets go for now?"
"Five bucks, same as usual. Good business to be in."
"What was Fontana in?"
"Everything, pretty much. Went back and forth. Didn't stick with things
"So were you and him gonna team up?"
"Guy played everything. I'd pitch him stuff."
"Well, we're getting old now, see. You know, 28, 29, whatever. Market's
not going for that anymore. You want to make the big bucks, you gotta do
what the kids are into."
"Yeah. What was the scam?"
"Depended on how wasted we got. Our big thing though, man, was this...
we take five kids, 14, 15, have 'em sing real high, but Fontana, maybe a
friend or two, they make the music halfway decent. Talking posters,
deodorant ads, you name it. Telling you, it would be huge."
"Have to ask, name for the band was gonna be?"
"You'll spare me the lyrics?"
"Long as you spell my name right."
"Hey, you're in the business, I'm in the business."
"Dig that. So, you know how things work, right, who do I say killed
"Can't get away with that... anymore."
"How's about sexually frustrated little white guy with a ton of
"Depends, was he wearing gothic clothing? Listening to bands where I can
at least suggest Satanic overtones?"
"Black clothing, you mean?"
"Could work. Nah, been done."
"Right. Hmm, this one'll take some time. Let me think. I've got it, you
make up a serial killer. The West Side Moat Monster. Yeah, somebody
who's going around wasting people, insisting that they put a big canal
or river around here."
"Because in this town, if you ain't on the water, nobody cares about
you. All you get is some kind of asshole from elsewhere, come in, five
minutes later leave, not give a flying fuck once the cameras are off."
"Hate people like that."
"They do kind of get on your nerves, don't they."
"They do. That they do."
"So, the real story, what do you go by?"
"Even my rap sheet just has me Lou."
"Hey, it's how it goes."
"So did you ever play with him?"
"Jumping off swings at the park."
"I meant, like, musically, just jamming on the sides. People around
here, as I remember, would mix up every now and again,
musician-swapping, guy does three-chord punk, but every Sunday he's
hitting jazz with five old guys, and they've got a decent sound too."
"OK. Yeah. Sometimes. Never worked like that. Fontana was in this one
band, couple years ago, they pretty much had it made. Probably know the
"Take off on masturbation, right?"
"Yeah. Doesn't narrow it down much. But they were just about there. 'Til
"No never -- Won't say never."
"I didn't think he'd make a good posthumous milk ad."
"Yeah, but he was below average. Wouldn't call him opposed to trying
"Lots. Maybe one serious. He was off and on with her. Ain't seen her
around, but we didn't get along so good, me and her."
"And you knew Fontana, honest, since when?"
"Since forever. But lots of people knew him. Didn't like him at first.
Guy was too above it."
"Right. Can you show me where he lived sometime?"
"Like right now?"
"Don't you have stuff to do here?"
"It can wait. They're trying to get rid of us, clear the group out. If I
split now, don't got to clean nothing up."
"Aren't you forgetting something?"
"Got my stuff. It's cool."
"What about the body?"
"Oh, yeah. He wouldn't mind. They're coming to get him soon. Plot
reserved in Greenmount. I'm not in charge of that."
"Carried him in. Carried his show for him. He can find his own way now."
We took Branson's car, an obvious babe magnet cunningly disguised as a
1974 Buick Opel, 0-25 in three minutes, unless and until the grade
shifted down. My body nestled into a decent mixture of torn vinyl and
shredded foam, I got the drive-by version of Fontana's life.
In a nutshell it was lotto, plexiglass, lake trout and checks cashed.
But it spanned half a city. Fontana's studio, padlocked, lay some eight
blocks from the apartment where the Duchess of Windsor stayed after her
dad died. His apartment lay in a historic hotel, abandoned by the owners
upon recognition of an ungodly repair bill. His last job, cashiering a
liquor store, overlooked the Sandtowne statue of Billie Holiday.
Branson took me to Fontana's club, or at least, the place where he
played when he wanted to charge money. Top of a warehouse, surrounded by
signs in the Korean alphabet, couple blocks beyond the train station.
Here and there on the ground were little tributes, hand-made posters of
Fontana, not playing, just hanging out, steel eyes, cut jaw.
Someone had made a sculpture, too abstract or childlike for me to make
much of it, and a couple of enterprising types had snatched flowers from
a less neglected part of the city. Never anyone with him, just Fontana
We got out to wander around, Branson had the key to this one. "How many
did he draw?"
"Depends on who he was playing with."
"Thought Fontana was a big draw."
"Hell yeah. The biggest. But he never advertized it. Guy was the stealth
celebrity, if you get it."
"Hard time explaining that one."
"Right. But here's the thing, he could get anybody to play with him.
Anybody at all. Local legend, sure, but it went beyond himself. Ever
know anyone like that?"
Sounded like a test, or maybe Branson didn't get around much.
"Sure, every year for a while, had this big party where I went to
college. Guy named Al, came down from PA. Called it Alfest. Huge deal.
Music, drugs, whatever."
"Alfest, what was it about?"
"Don't know, maybe it was seasonal. He came in, 'round the same time
every year, like the swallows going to Capistrano or something. Not
sure. Pretty good reason to get wasted."
"So this guy, Al, he played music?"
"Yeah, guitar. Rock stuff. Years before Seattle."
"OK, so what was famous about him."
"He used to hang out with this band sometimes. Local bunch. Hair rock.
Lead singer looked pretty good. 'Bout all you could say about them."
"And, what was so big about them?"
"Well, they were going to L.A., right? Going to make it big. Got to be
more than just bullshit with them, though. These guys sold all the shit
they could, put money together, got ready for the trip. And they wanted
to take Al with them."
"Al didn't go."
"Nope. He thought they sucked. Sucked bad. OK to hang with, but not even
in the top twenty as far as his town went."
"OK. Then what?"
"The band split. Got a decent guitarist, dude had as much hair as they
did. Hooked up with the right agent, got somebody interested in how they
looked on the tube, couple of record deals, big money, famous name.
Haven't heard from 'em since. But anyway, that was the guy's
credibility. He didn't hang with them. Everybody dug it."
"So you think he played OK?"
"Don't know. I went two years in a row, but I was too wasted. Besides,
back in the day, I paid my rent washing dishes for the band, whenever
they split. Didn't go to the show. Happens."
"You missed out."
"Probably. On the other hand, every now and again one waitress would
take pity on me and invite me home. Usually because her in the band
boyfriend was out competing, trying to see who could put up the most
"Who won? Bass guitar or drummer?"
"Drummer. Most of the bass guitar guys I met were wankers."
"Wrecking the stereotype, man. OK, but if you've seen so much," Branson
opened the door, "let me ask you the last time you saw something like
It was the foyer, if you can call it that, to Fontana's space. Rusty
metal staircase led two flights up, there didn't seem to be anything at
the first landing. A wall blocked off most of the ground area. Remaining
space was packed with tributes, homemade wreaths of anything from guitar
strings to beer cans, carvings, letters, cards, like when royalty dies,
only this time people had something to say. Found it moving.
"It all got dropped off here?"
"Pretty much. Me and a friend moved it inside last night, looked like it
was gonna rain. Didn't want nothing getting messed up."
"Must've weighed a lot."
"He didn't know anybody into junk sculpture. I hope. Or maybe the junk
sculptors have more class. Hope so. Wouldn't want to get tetanus or
"Yeah. What are you gonna do with it all?"
"One thing at a time. Moved it in here for now. They won't let us drop
any of it off at Greenmount. Not even the little stuff. Orderly place to
die. Boy'd probably like it there, though. Famous folk."
"Next to the Booth family?"
"Or something. Been rough?"
"Not as rough as it was on him. Getting used to seeing people die.
Happens to all the good clubbers sooner or later."
"So, what do you think happened?"
"Fontana was walking where he shouldn't have been, like he has for the
past 10, 12 years, ran into some punk from out of town he didn't know,
or better, didn't know him, something goes wrong, guy's hyped, Fontana
got shot. I spend three days not sleeping. Everybody comes to visit. In
a couple weeks, gonna have a big horse race. Everybody can go to that,
get drunk there instead."
"That's cynical. Supposed to be my department."
"Yeah, but you were the only honest one there."
"Everybody else said they knew him. Most of 'em didn't know him any
better than you."
"Seems to have touched folks."
"Oh yeah. He was Mr. AT&T of South Fucking Baltimore. Reached out and
got everbody. After he was dead."
"Human nature, Lou. People only got weepy over Ma Bell after the
breakup. Before that, just made fun of the ugly phones."
"Yeah. So what you gonna do?"
"Can we take a look upstairs?"
"Sure. Nothing to it."
Nightclubs will never pass for contemporary shrines to the God Dionysus,
least not in the noon hours, when daylight seeps through shattered
windowpanes, revealing a floor carpeted in cigarette butts, discarded
plastic cups, and the odd fold-out of self-published lyrics from a truly
Still, the design wasn't bad, found myself recalling disco fantasies
until I noticed the absence of the revolving glass ball.
"Bring any girls up here?"
"What else a place like this for? But you bring girls anywhere, don't
"Me? Nah. Been trying to observe the spirit of National Masturbation Day
on a year-round basis, though of course that's gotten corporate, so it
might be time to date again."
"Yeah. Well, this is it. Where legends are made. Every night some little
sorority girl come in, see the wild side, wouldn't believe the number of
"Banged in every corner."
"Got ya. Sorority girl, though, place like this has more of an
attraction for the younger set, right?"
"Yeah. But my lawyer told me not to say nothing while trial was still
"OK. So how many dates Fontana play here?"
"Biggest celeb ever to walk through?"
"What? Media people? They're not the ones who mattered."
"Figured that, but I'm working for the mainstream press here. Somebody
important must a done a couple 'a lines 'round here."
"Yeah. Probably. Let's check the keg. See if they left a card."
We strolled through the debris, past walls of indiscriminate art. Some
of the paintings had a phosphorous tint, making me think there'd be more
to see if I was willing to risk the neighborhood at night. I thought
about it, but I've been busy living, and they weren't paying that much.
"There gonna be a show for him?"
"Yeah. Oh yeah. Guy took a bad time to die on us though."
"He was supposed to be in charge of the cleanup."
"So this is the last place he played?"
"Last time seen alive. Big crowd. All the kids dancing, dancing, even
when my man played something he wanted them to listen to, they were
"Ecstasy and culture don't mix?"
"So they say."
"They weren't doing crystal meth, were they?"
"That speed shit. Hell no."
"Cool. I hate talking to people on crystal meth."
"Yeah, you won't have that problem. Don't think."
"OK. So who was with him on stage the last night?"
"Same band that was playing today. Pretty much."
"They played with him before?"
"Off and on. Fontana was what you might call between bands, down at the
unemployment office. Only he was permanently between them -- that was a
joke at the time."
"Right. Pretty funny one."
"Yeah. So this is it. Got a picture of his world yet?"
"Nothing special about it, is there?"
"Attracted a crowd."
"That he did."
"But you don't know why."
"And you haven't really explained it to me."
"Maybe it's something you can't explain."
"You've spent a few days trying. That's why the big thing for the group,
right, aiming to tell them about the man?"
"Got another shot. Put it in a few words, or do it long and drawn out.
What made him special? Good looks? Dazzling skill with women? Guitar
licks straight out of hell? Kicking outside jumper? What did it?"
"You ever play, or at least watch, baseball? Like, know it?"
"Well, apart from the fact that Brooks Robinson had more gold gloves
than anybody save Jim Kaat, Lou Gerhig would've hit five home runs in a
game once if it hadn't been for a great catch at the wall, and that
there's one guy in the Hall of Fame who ain't much more qualified to be
there than his minor-league reject potato-throwing grandnephew, not a
whole hell of a lot."
"OK. So you know how Johnny Bench, got pissed off at this pitcher, some
loser in love with his fastball, but his fastball wasn't no good?"
"Yeah. Heard the story."
"Bench catches the guy's fastball, with his bare hand, just to prove it
wasn't a whole heck of a lot?"
"Right. Got it."
"And the guy, like, the pitcher guy, he was just stunned, he makes this
little sign on his chest, got nothing to say, just, that was a cool
thing you did, here's my sign. I am in awe of you."
"Yeah. Yeah. Got it."
"That's how Fontana was. You saw him, you wanted to mess with him a
little. Just, like he got something too smug about him. Everybody,
wanted to take him down a bit."
"And he'd never show it. Or almost never. You just weren't gonna get to
him. I never saw him lose it. Never. It's like he was always here,
always just a little out of place. Guy had skills. Could've used any of
"So he was a coward. Afraid of the attention?"
"Nope. Man, wasn't that. Wasn't afraid at all. You messed with him too
much, you know, he'd get you. He'd reach out and catch your fastball.
And that was it."
"How'd he get you?"
"That's another story for another day."
"Keep me coming back."
"Yeah, telling you the story like that chick, one where the guy was
killing all the other women for fucking around, so she got in there and
told him the story, so he had to keep her alive."
"Yeah. Sche-whatever the fuck you said."
"Great. So that's what I got to ask people, how he got to them?"
"Beats knowing what covers he did."
"OK. Where do I find those band members, I'll need to scope 'em out
"Alone, they might not talk to you."
"Leave that to me."
"Yeah. All right. You need more than just my side. Right. OK."
"So where do I find them?"
"I'll draw you a map, which road to take and who to have watch your car.
Just kidding. It's easy enough. Place you want to start is a club south
of the water, one stuck full of dead animals."
"Keeping with the season."
"Yeah. Goth band. Don't know what the boy was doing sometimes."
"Right. And his girl?"
"She used to waitress in a coffee house off the point. Don't know if
she's still there or not. But if she's not, there'll be folks who can
"Cool. You'll give me a ride back?"
"Long as the car starts."
"OK. I've got to call my editor, can we take off after that?"
Fontana's phone had been coopted for a spontaneous exhibition of
performance art, or at least that's one explanation for why the receiver
lay on both sides of the dance floor, so I went outside to use the
Dedicated as she was to both her craft and her reporter, Janice had left
the office for a Tai-Bo class. Waiting on hold for someone to check in
with, I was accosted by two crack dealers, four panhandlers, and one guy
who told me the medical school was a front for a sophisticated drug
experiment being conducted on the city's water by Seventh Day
Adventists, as if I didn't already know.
Eventually I gave up, told the receptionist I'd check in again later,
grabbed a lift with Branson, and headed out to catch a band.
The week's tough question: if a bunch of black-wearing white face paint
kids are really depressed about something, how can you tell? A bunch of
them were out on the floor dancing with whoever, chatting each up other
up about whatever, and agreeing that the reporter on the floor didn't
There were stuffed animal heads all over the joint, giving the room the
feel of an Alaskan hunting lodge, if all you could hunt in Alaska was
mid-Atlantic deer in great quantity. I was starting to get depressed,
and the music was not to my taste, same tunes over and over again,
played from a couple of decent quality but hardly pro level discs. I was
starting to catch the same lyrics when I became glad I'd never used the
"momma didn't raise no dummies" cliche in my life; I'd have been a
hypocrite bar none.
I sat down on a stool near the bar, my alcohol-enabled wrist band
getting me an odd look from the bartender when I asked for another
water, and just listened for the boy.
Minutes passed, my silent presence turned angry stares into neutral,
even approving glances, like the reception given a new dog on the corner
who it turns out doesn't bite or even bark much.
I don't have enough of the frustrated novelist in me to ever try my hand
as a music critic, and wouldn't dream of calling myself a Goth
enthusiast, but if I can explain, I'd have to say there was an energy
there, chords mixed together like the songsmith gave a damn, which is
perhaps more than we can say for other industry figures, in just about
any genre you choose.
Like any other band, some songs were favorites, emptying the side-booths
and clearing the walls of ivy and other plantlife, while others sprouted
weeds, giving up the floor to a relatively small number of the faithful.
On one of the more popular hits, I asked the bartender if he thought he
knew how it must have been for DJs on the night Colbain died.
"Nirvana? I liked them too," was all he said. In the lights I was struck
by how old he looked. Must have been at least 60.
Typical Baltimore. Non-commital. Journey to the heart of I guess. Heard
a story once, guy got assigned to visit every single bar on Eastern
Ave., from Little Italy, past Fells Point, through Greektown, out to the
steel yards, remembered the reporter talking about how hard it was to
pull a quote from some people. In this one place he got so pressed,
nearly dying, finally someone let him in on a story where one 20-year
regular got so irritated at dangling earwax, he took a Q-tip to another
There were no 20-year regulars in this place, only a couple of
twenty-somethings scattered among the teens. I tried again on his next
"Fontana really must have meant something to folks."
"Yes. It's been pretty hard on them."
"Has anything happened here?"
"The usual. Tell you the truth, I've got a girl stationed in the
bathroom, just watching out, making sure nobody's in a stall alone. We
do that anyway, but now we're more worried about them hurting themselves
on premises. She's been watching."
Paradise. "What's her name? She still on duty?"
"Don't be going in the ladies restroom now."
"I wouldn't dream of it." Though of course all bathrooms are unisex in
bars. "I've got to tell you something."
"What's that. Wait. Hold on a minute." He walked away, talked to a
customer, poured three drinks, gave a few instructions.
"I've been assigned to cover this story. For the paper. They know he's
touched a lot of people."
"Yeah. I know."
"But I don't know everyone. How'd they hear?"
"You're about the fourth one come in here. The other ones had
"And people just won't talk to them."
"Mr. Fontana didn't like publicity."
"He ever play here?"
"I've told this before."
"Yeah. OK. But who's stayed the longest?"
"Of all of them?"
"I've only been here an hour. Maybe."
"You've stayed longer than any two of them."
"Are you impressed by that?"
"Naw. Just figured you didn't have anywhere to go. Another water?"
"Yeah. Easy on the ice this time."
"They're pretty desperate at the paper."
"Oh, I expect they're dong OK."
"You read it?"
"Sometimes. Got the sports section from a couple of great games. I liked
the night one."
"Yeah, me too."
"I used to work for the night one. They only called me because I lived
in the area where Fontana's body was kept. Guess they thought I might
"Well, at least they're trying."
"It's a story worth telling."
"That it is. That it is."
"So, can you give me anything, did he play here?"
"No. Not here. Some folks from his bands did. Not him."
"Did you like him?"
"Sure. He came and sat down here all the time. Right where you're
sitting, just about. Talked to him on slow nights. Excuse me." More
drinks. A lot more this time. An older crowd was arriving. Finally my
friend came back.
"Forget Fontana for a second. I wouldn't have pegged you for working in
this kind of place."
"Me neither. That's why it's good to meet people. "Just give 'em what
they want. Everbody goes home happy. I sleep late. Works out."
"Yeah. Guess so. Knew some of the folks by that art college. For 20
years, they'd pour Natty Boh into the glasses of one group of students
after another. Put kids through college on 25 cent tips.
"Yeah. Good jobs they had. Lots of folks came in. Tell you what, I can
maybe help you out a bit. Michelle, she's my watcher, is coming out now.
Can't smoke in the restroom. Bad example. That's her in the corner,
heading for the door. You can catch her."
"Oh, don't mention it."
"I mean it. Thanks. One more question, Fontana's band was supposed to be
"Yeah. Heard that too. Expect they'll be around. Or, you could find them
around the corner. They'll wait there sometimes if they think I'm too
busy or the floor's too crowded."
"And you were very busy."
"Yeah. Better catch Michelle now. Hope she can help."
For those categorizing service industry professions in terms of their
observational scores vis-a-vis human nature, restroom attendant would
have to rank near the bottom; too much of the job centers on not
watching what's going on for it to attract keen insight. Roundabout way
of saying Michelle was no help whatsoever.
Giving up, I sauntered around the corner to see if I could find anyone
who played with Fontana. Couple of flashing red lights and a crowd that
pushed closer together for a better look with each order to disperse
greeted me. Someone lay on the ground, face at half-mash from what
looked like a half-clip of bullets delivered point-blank.
He was wearing black with a death-oriented T-shirt, like the name of a
band. Started to look like I wasn't going to get my great interview that
It'd been a while since I'd gone talking to cops. They're still the
same, case you were wondering. Little trimmer maybe, occasionally given
to '90s euphemisms when describing racially motivated searches and
busts, but still given to the self-centered though betimes charming
notion that whatever they were working on, be it a traffic ticket or the
arrest of a serial killer, was the most important thing happening on the
planet at that time, and likely for all times.
Corner bar had emptied out. Most of the folks there milling around, I
sidled up to the occasional stunned-looking ones, like they'd just
suffered a one-two punch. From what I gathered, they had indeed.
The deceased was named Steven Todd Bateman, age 23, graduate of Southern
High School, last known address near an industrial district. That and
around 28 dollars were the good contents of his jacket pockets. The bad
was what appeared to be 3 marijuana cigarettes and a small quantity of
narcotic, white powder, presumably heroin. Bateman had only a small
supply left if he was a regular user.
Upon discovery, it was ruled a drug-related homicide. No eyewitnesses
came forward, so the officers on scene described it as a case where
Bateman tried to buy, didn't have enough cash, or may have had
additional cash in another pocket, something went wrong, et cetera, et
Bateman was also one of the last people to have played with Fontana.
Band name was Gonzo Jim Thompson, though they hadn't played together
often, so it might have changed. A cursory glance at Bateman's fingers
didn't reveal any calluses, so I presumed I'd find the singer.
Not wanting to be ghoulish, figuring that kids around there had enough,
and of course realizing that I got paid more for each day I took on the
story, I left a few cards for members of Bateman's group, asking them to
page me or leave a message at the newspaper if they wanted somebody to
Both clubs shut down early that night. I went to the paper to try and
check in with Janice.
"All right, all right."
Not everything had gone wrong. There was still a friend behind the
"Jedediah. Jedediah. My word, haven't seen you in -- how long's it
"Oh yes. Too long. Heard you was going overseas now."
"Nah, just across the river. State line. Guess it is kind of like
another country, now that you mention it."
"Surely must be. Surely must be. What you here for?"
"They called me back. Asked me to write a story about the old
"Well now, that is something. Couldn't find nobody here."
"Does that surprise you, George?"
"Well, I reckon it doesn't. Reckon not. Hmm. Well, things have improved
somewhat. Been some changes."
"Serious. You might want something from this place again. We miss you."
"Oh George. You'll get me all choked up."
"Yeah. Guess so. Things been rough sometimes. Don't nobody ever come
here no more, telling me what someone on the street just offered them."
"What? They don't? My God, that's what makes it Baltimore. Dish rags,
car loot, sex acts, travelling bazaar."
"Yes sir. That it is. A travelling bazaar."
"Especially when it happens in the middle of the street. Never get that
"No sir, Mr. Jedediah, no place like this."
"Saw this Yuppie the other day."
"And what was he selling?"
"That's good, Jedediah. That's good."
"Yup, corner of Baltimore and Calvert. Right there. Guess he'd just been
"It happens. It happens. Who you here to see?"
"Some editor. Janice."
"She don't talk to me."
"She's missing out."
"Yeah. Have to run you up there."
"She can wait."
"Well she can wait, yes. But Jedediah, something you ought to know."
"She's not very good at it."
"I see. Good one."
"Yeah. I'll run you up."
We chatted the elevator ride up, talking mostly about how the Orioles
didn't have it that year, save for one outfielder who was playing with
guts. George was a really nice guy, the sort of person you needed to
talk to more for long-term wellbeing, but I spent the trip ridiculing
myself silently, remembering how once I'd been so in love with the paper
I'd tried to sneak on the newsroom floor, speaking exclusively in a
foreign language so they wouldn't be able to kick me out.
Times had changed. Pretty much had to drag me here now, with promises of
Said goodbye to George as he ventured down to his world of 135 degree
security cam sweeps and late night talk show reruns, then walked into
what was very much a deserted newsroom. Janice stood at the far end near
an unnaturally clean cubicle replete with plants, she was fretting.
"No one to keep you company?"
"Well, thank goodness you finally showed up. I can't believe it. You
were supposed to check in with me several times today. What's wrong with
you? Are you a professional? God, that's so completely irresponsible."
"Guess not. Who would want to keep you company?"
"Well, no, they've put the morning edition to bed."
"And you don't have a story yet."
"Guy died three, now four days ago. Hardly front page news. We'd agreed
on a feature."
"Right. We did. But that doesn't mean you've got carte blanche to just
walk around on your own, not telling me anything."
"Thought that was the definition of freelance. What's the matter,
Janice, had a best friend in an outgoing executive? Wondering where the
rent's going to come from? There's always sales. You could even combine
it with a career in marketing."
"Is it a problem between you and women? Is that it? Why you can't stay
on? Wake up, join the changing world. There wasn't a single male in my
journalism classes who got the attention and praise of me and some of my
"Well of course not, Janice. Burned-out university types, they do feel
threatened, their worklife spent in a rather different atmosphere. But
it's only by smart women. Someone like you, eager to please, somewhat
docile, real good at taking direction, you're perfect, probably got A's
in a few classes without even reading the book. Right?"
"Yeah. Don't need to know Spenser or any of those dead white guys
anyway, right? Never mind. Point is, we both concede that men are
threatened by strong women, what better antidote to that than someone
like you. You're not only un-threatening, you'll stand in the way and be
catty towards anyone else who is. Maybe deep down you know it, but you
still get to wear the nice dresses, drive a four by four and feel
empowered, right? "
"Why do you talk to me that way?"
"'Cause this is a bullshit assignment, somebody ought to say it to you,
if only for the waitstaff you've abused, and, frankly, I can. Your ass
is on the line, ain't it, Janice?"
"Gaston, if you don't come through on this..."
"What, you'll really really not publish me? Come on, it's been two years
since my byline last appeared under a Baltimore masthead. I come in here
knowing more about it than you and your staff do, and I haven't worked
particularly hard. What, your reporters don't cull sources anymore?"
"We have a strong investigative team."
"Yeah. Dig the foreign coverage. Or is that what you guys pick up off
the wire. You had a responsibility to come through. You've sent at least
three reporters down. Let me guess, when of 'em tried to dress hip,
"Well, to fit in."
"Friend of mine in a band tells a story about alternative rockers in the
area near Harvard Square. Early '90s, guys were showing up to see a
couple of heavy into beer bands from out of town, playing two, even
three chords. Said the club-goers, local students most likely, wore dyed
mohawks, and at the end of the set jumped into BMWs and used Mercedes.
Sound about right?"
"What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing. If it was 1979. Well, except for the BMWs and Mercedes. How'd
your investigator do?"
"He was assaulted."
"So what have you found out?"
"Aside from the second shooting?"
"Yeah. Happened around 12:30. Out front a bar near city end. No
reporters on the scene."
"We got the story from the police."
"Police tell you Bateman played with Fontana?"
"They said it was drug-related. He had some heroin and other
"Right. Shot in the face. A lot."
"What do you think it means?"
"Don't play in a band with Fontana. Bad luck."
"Right. Anything else?"
"Well, Fontana wasn't strictly clean. Used to sell nitrous balloons and
such. If he's hung in that neighborhood for very long, he's probably
smoked some cocaine, done other drugs. Heavy scene where he came from.
Autopsy show traces of anything in his body?"
"Few beers the day before. Some cannabis."
"Cannabis? Hadn't heard it called that. Or do you mean marijuana?"
"Mexican, Canadian, Tenessean?"
"Mexican -- oh, I don't know. Why do you ask?"
"Wondering what I'll get when I go buy some."
"Yeah. Actually, I'll need a couple hundred from you. For expenses."
"So you can buy marijuana? Mr. Gaston, I don't think you're taking this
seriously. Maybe we need to reconsider our arrangement."
"You're right. This isn't an advance, it's for expenses. We ought to
draw that out somewhere, in writing. Or else you can just say it's for
petty cash. Up to you."
"You think I'm going to give you money so you can come up here and buy
drugs? Well, I guess you'll just have to go back to whatever it was you
were doing before you came here."
"You mean contacting the weekly and writing a cover story for them?"
"Yeah, you know, thing published every Wednesday, great horoscopes, one
of those semi-alternative ventures that radical chics suburbanites into
downtown bondage shops, occasionally does journalism when the chain
owner starts to get worried people are catching how much they much from
economies of scale on gay phone sex ads. The weekly. My next stop will
"Why? Why do you care?"
"Make you look bad. Definite plus. And there's one thing you don't seem
to get, hon. Remember the football player, running back I believe? You
still cover football here, right?"
"Yes, we do that."
"Of course you do. Anyway, the yardage guy, the one caught by police,
think it was the Mexican border? Maybe Texas or something. Know what I'm
"I remember it. Mm-hmm. He also ran into problems here."
"Yeah, the opposiing team's defensive line."
"You don't get anything, do you?"
"What were you going to say?"
"Well, day that story happened, I was drinking in a fern bar. Happens.
You know what I said to the bartender?"
"'Bartender, ain't it a shame. Just a crying shame.'"
"'Streets in that town going to hell. Schools not worth a damn. Mayor
one of those dweebes who went to a good knowledge, has the potential to
do anything save get results. It all fell apart on crack in that town,'
I said. 'But worst of all, bartender, even though most neighborhoods
people won't walk out alone at night...'"
"Yes. Yes, Mr. Gaston. All right. Get to the point."
"'Even though most neighborhoods, people won't walk out alone at night,'
I said, 'you still can't get good grass in Baltimore.' Now give me
"Oh. OK. Yes, I will. One moment."
She went into somebody's desk. Then rummaged through her own purse. Came
back with $170.
"Here, and that's my own money too. Will it help?"
"Shouldn't hurt. You didn't strike me as the type who carries cash."
"I don't trust the stores, the banks. I read this book about ATMs. And I
don' want poeple knowing what I buy."
"Well, it's good that you're doubting somebody's integrity, Janice."
"So when will I hear from you again?"
"I'll file the first story for you tomorrow. We can agree that the tenor
of it has changed."
"Oh and Janice, thanks for the bucks. And by the way, if it's any
consolation to you, I do have something nice to say."
"You're nowhere near as fat as I thought you would be."
Call it a new urban geography. Boundaries within boundaries, lines not
drawn but very much there. If you live downtown and walk a lot, you get
a feel for where you can go, where you can go with friends, where you go
when you're feeling dangerous, and where you go when you're drunk or
wanting to die.
Fayette and Monroe was my destination, an intersection I'd visited
previously only when my job demanded I stand behind yellow tape, looking
concerned and getting the occassional interview, or else when I'd gotten
so trashed on cheap stout I'd forgotten to head in the direction of
skyscrapers when staggering home. It happens.
I cruised the block a few times, made a mental note to remember what the
prostitutes were wearing just in case it showed up some months hence on
a fashion show runway, then parked a short distance away to see if
anyway I knew showed up.
Call me out of practice. Three of the neighborhood's lowest surrounded
my car, the in back on a projectile line to my throat, his hand at a
jacket bulge, likely a Tech 9, the one next to me rapping on the window
mouthing out "you a cop?," and over by the passenger side, looking in
charge and angry, was a guy wondering what he could take the suburbanite
I rolled the window down slow.
"No, not a cop. I'm a reporter."
Got a rush of laughter from the galley.
Passenger door looked me over. "Strange time to be reporting, G."
"Yeah. But I've gotten the impression folks around here work nights.
Ever come by in the morning and knock loud on the door of a man who
works nights? Good way to get shot."
Not amused. "So's fucking with me."
"Believe it. Got a few questions about a guy. Two guys, actually. One
killed in three-four days ago, other one three-four hours ago. Any of
you folks know anything about it?"
"What? Some white boy gets shot?" This was driver's side. Oh yeah, we
gets all choked up over it."
"Hey, shut up." Passenger door. "I'm listening."
"Just curious. Fontana, his body got kept over at the Gypsy. For about a
week or so. He's shot. His friend gets shot. His friend's carrying.
They've both been hanging out together. Cops found some drugs on
Fontana. You know him, right?"
"Seen him around?"
"What I look like? Fucking Mr. 411? You see dial buttons on my ass?"
This was passenger door. To the cacophony of driver's side and
"I'm just wondering if either of them, Bateman was the other one, white
"Yeah, that narrows it down."
"I got ya. I got ya. But Fontana lived up the street from here. And he
was probably into the soft stuff. I need to know if he was into the hard
stuff. Guy like you, watches his ground so good you're on my ass in
minutes, you probably know what goes on here, don't you? Be a lousy
businessman if you didn't."
Passenger door looked at me. I got hopeful. "Yeah, right. I know what's
what. And I know I don't give no flying fuck about you. Why don't you
take your ass on out of here before I stop feeling so fucking generous."
"OK, man, look. I got the impression Fontana was a friend to a lot of
"Ain't never said he wasn't. Only said why should I give a fuck about
"Because, man, people care about the guy. I got called in 'cause I have
a rep for doing it solid. Honest. Maybe you never met no one like that."
"Yeah, but Fontana was a friend of yours, you know what he meant to
people. Somebody killed him, they get away with it, unless there's
something you know's gonna happen. Or did happen."
"Don't be knowing nothing about that. Nothing about that."
"OK. Fine. But I'm thinking two people dead, cops not doing shit. People
"Oh, you want to know why folks don't talk?"
"Yes. Actually I do. I want to hear your side of it. Nobody's been
straight with me."
"All right then. But my ass ain't standing out here. You come with me."
For the curious, area inside an inner-city dealer's apartment is not all
that different from yours or mine, quality of the electronics leans to
pricy, if you're thinking retail, but other than that, place was clean
and sedate, apart from the arsenal laid out on the coffee table for the
benefit of the guest.
Most of our conversation was about the life of Darren, former L.A.
nightlife stalwart, late of the New York scene, currently laying low,
very low, in Southwest Baltimore. Took it with a grain. But the useful
part was that, though Fontana et al had indeed purchased from his sales
reps, it was strictly weak stuff, pot, little coke. Boys didn't ever buy
much more than a dime bag, and Fontana had been laying off, not having
visited for more than six months.
Of course, Darren was supposed to have been in New York for some big
bashes, three months ago if not last week, but you don't sweat the
timelines much when you're the only one not strapped.
Agreeing to do a feature on him should the occasion ever arise, I left
Darren and his minions, was gladdened to discover my car had gone
untouched, and drove off to a park I knew to sit and think.
Park I went to overlooked a golf course, out in the moonlight there was
one of those east Chesapeake old-style plantation homes, slightly to the
west a valley where America's first railroad track was laid. Thankfully
it was the kind of place one took hookers too rather than met at, so the
automobile departures and arrivals, with their less-than romantic
squearkings, were not accompanied by taps on my window and a
half-toothed leer asking "you looking, baby?"
Simple story. Guy died, meant a lot to people, they wanted to talk,
media screwed it up, people stopped wanting to talk, editor was
embarassed, outsider got called in so person X could say she was trying,
outsider loathed editor, presumably for deep-rooted psychological
reasons, but in any event didn't much care whether she or her
organization lived or died, and anyway first dead guy was simply another
vanquished musician on the road to rock 'n roll.
If it hadn't been for the second shooting, I'd have gone home, fudged
the names, made up a few quotes attributed to Joe Dokes in black
leather, collected my fee, and moved on from there, as confident in my
former employer as a source of income as a I had been for the previous
But something didn't sit right with me. It wasn't any big attraction to
solve a crime, frankly they'd instituted a "rotation system" at the
Baltimore PD, so the smart, successful cops got moved from their beats,
where they had sources, knew the layout, and could work on a case
unhindered, into a new department where they dealt with a completely
different kind of criminal, and another position change six-12 months
later, thereby destroying whatever experience had previously remained on
scene, long way of saying that the average person on the street was now
more capable of solving crimes than the cops, at least until they got a
new personnel department.
Think it was more a stubborn thing. It was my element, as much as it was
anyone's, and I couldn't get anything more out of people than the
previous dregs they'd thrown at them. I cared very little for my
professional reputation, being the only cub reporter who didn't attend,
let alone graduate, a good college, got little more than snarls at the
office cooler, but I didn't want to let this one go without a zinger.
Somebody was gonna have to pull earwax out of somebody's ear, and until
that happened, I wouldn't split.
Hardly a rallying cry, but when you've got nothing else to fight for yet
feel like duking it out, even a lame statement like that will do.
I didn't really feel like crashing that night, having been asleep
mentally for a couple of years, so I returned to the funeral site. Place
had been mostly cleaned up, cups strewn here and there on the sidewalk,
but nothing out of the ordinary, Gypsy's had always provided tourists
with that extra little bit of ambiance..
Side bar to the joint opened for business every weekday morning around
5:30. The place sold coffee, individually wrapped convenience store
breakfasts, and an open-air plate of fried codfish cakes, whose origins
and date of expiration were equally indeterminate.
Inside sat a few municipal workers drinking coffee before shift began,
some day-laborers waiting hopefully for an assignment to arrive, and a
few comparatively well-off building contractors, their eyes glowing at
the overcast sky, tallying the benefits of a rained-out workday spent
drinking beer, once six o'clock and legal drinking hours arrived.
I asked the bartender about a few people I'd hoped to find, was told
they'd ben in later, ate something with a tasy cream filling and drank
watery Maxwell House.
I waded into a morning smorgasbord of rapid-fire TV newsbytes with the
crowd, of particular interest were figure skating, local crime, and some
guy who liked to jump off of buildings in costume. What few doubts I'd
had about the benefits of late were completely erased by the time Porky
and company arrived.
Even in the drabbest neighborhoods, there's always some dude who stands
out by being relatively with it, managing to stay with his buds while
earning an exceptional living. In this neighborhood it was a guy named
Sam, big bearded fellow, forearms like a sailor's, piercing stare that
could make you nervous, all the more intimidating when you realized he
ran a million-dollar construction firm, but still paid his people off
with hundreds, every night.
Sam was very protective of his staff in general, Porky in particular.
They were family, kin, given that most area long-timers had family in
the highlands of Appalachia; most could identify an uncle in the bootleg
trade, all shared an affinity for Guns & Roses, Janis Joplin, and
whoever the hell it was wrote "Hillbilly Highway."
I went to Sam and introduced myself. He remembered me, but didn't make
too much of it, just grunting an affirmative. This was important, as
continuing on without his approval made the risks associated with
walking city streets at night look like Sunday afternoon at a Disney
Bought Porky a coffee, asked him if he wanted to tell me anything
about his friend Fontana. Porky looked at Sam, got the nod, agreed to
talk outside with me.
"Oh yeah," he started. "I been real sad. Real sad since Fontana died. We
was good friends. He took me down the ocean with him one time."
"Down the ocean, Pork? First time you ever been there, I'll bet."
"Yeah. And he took me up there. Onstage with him. At the ocean."
"Wow." I was starting to get bummed. But memory served, Porky didn't
lie. Had too many people watching him, couldn't get away with it."
"So you sang a song?"
"Oh no. No. I wouldn't do that. No sir. Don't have a good voice.
Remember some of them girls here, they had good voices. I used to listen
to them sing. Even used to dance with them. Yes sir."
"Wow, Pork. So, did you play drums?"
"No sir. No sir. I didn't play those drums. That drummer, the one in Mr.
Fontana's band. He didn't like me. Not at all."
"OK. No drums. You danced onstage?"
"Oh yeah. I danced. A little bit. Everybody danced. Not on the stage
though. No sir."
"So, what did you do, Pork?"
"I told my story. That's all. Told my story and that's all."
"The story. You know the story. I don't got to tell you the story."
"So you remember me, Pork?"
"Sure I do. You was the one, gonna be a big shot. I told you, it was
better hanging around, staying with people who love you."
"Well, we both know who's right there, Pork. I'm hardly a big shot."
"Yes sir. And right here where I live, there's plenty of people love me.
Yes they do. Know me. Protect me."
"Got me there, Pork. Got me there. So how'd that trip happen? You and
Fontana, and his band, going to the beach?"
"Oh, we was working together. Yes sir. He'd be in the kitchen. I'd help
out washing dishes. He talked about it with me. All the time, said he
was gonna take me on the road with him. Said they were gonna love me. Do
you trust me, Mr. Gaston?"
"Course I do, Pork. Course I do."
"I would have gone with him. I would have. The first few times he asked
me, I was scared. I admit that. I don't never want to leave home before.
Not ever. Don't know what's out there. Don't know what people are like.
That's not true. I know what people are like. They're bad. It's that
simple. You hear what happened to Timmy?"
Timmy was another neighborhood guy. Mean-spirited types always ranked
him and Porky one two for mental disability."
"No Pork. I didn't hear. What happened to Timmy?"
"He was out there, one day, some of those new folks came into town. They
grabbed Timmy. Yes sir. They grabbed him."
"Oh God. Pork, what did they do to him?"
"They shaved his hair. Yes sir. They shaved his hair. They gave him a
"Bet not many folks around here liked that."
"Oh no. Butch, John, Sam, all the guys, they took care of the folks done
that. Took care of 'em good."
"Bet they did."
"Yes sir. They took care of 'em good. So good, Timmy never got bothered
"Sam. Yeah, I'll be Timmy never got bothered again."
"But folks like that around here, when they mess with Sam. I didn't want
to know what it's like outside there."
"Other places, folks aren't as mean as they can be here, Pork."
"Yeah. That's what Fontana told me. You and him, told me the same
things. I wanted to go with him. That's for sure. I wanted to go on tour
"It's been really hard for you, hasn't it, Pork."
"Oh, it's never easy when you lose a friend. Never easy. Don't get any
better. I've lost a few now. Had my wife, she passed."
"Oh, Pork. I'm sorry to hear that."
"Yeah. She passed. She passed. It happens."
"Wow. God. I didn't know."
"Yeah. Looked forward to travelling with Fontana and his band."
"You got along OK with the rest of them? Except for the drummer, right?"
"Oh, even the drummer. Yeah. We got along. They liked me. Bought me a
few beers on that ride home. Yes sir. A few beers." Porky smiled.
Remembering. He could get off topic quick when the subject of beer got
"So how about the other folks in the band. Any of them come by to hang
"Oh, Mr. Don, he'll come by. Think he'll be coming by today, as a matter
"How about another guy, Steven, or Bateman? Know him at all?"
"Oh sure. I knew Bates. They called him Norman. He was a real nice guy.
Be coming in, he'd help me out. Him and Fontana, they was the ones
bought me the beer at the end of the trip."
"OK. Yeah. I see." I didn't want to tell Pork. Ruin his day. Get him all
riled up. Crew inside looked like they had work needed to do, Porky was
the one who brought them sandwiches. I'd leave a message for Sam later.
"So what's Don look like?"
"Him. Orange hair. Pretty short. He works over at the bookstore. One by
the college all the kids used to go to. Funny guy. He'd come by here,
talk with Fontana. They'd have coffee. Get me a beer to drink with him.
It was good."
"Yeah. I'll get you a beer myself tonight, Pork. Promise."
"Oh, that's OK, Mr. Gaston. You don't got to be doing nothing like
"Hey, Pork. You really helped me with my job today. I'm sorry you had to
lose a friend like that. It's been hard for you."
"Yeah. It's hard. Real hard. Well, looks like the gang's ready to go.
Time for work. I'll see you later. Yes sir. See you later."
"Later for you two, Pork. And thanks."
They loaded up the truck. I put in a call to my voice mail, got a
message from Branson that he was remembering something, wanted me to see
it before the article got wrote, name in the paper 43 times, instead of
Thankfully, I was able to leave before finishing my cup of coffee. The
store Pork mentioned was near an art college by Baltimore's train
stations. Only one station had trains, the other had been annexed by the
school. Memory served, the place opened around 8-9, depending on who was
working and whether or not they wanted to talk to people.
Don hadn't been on scene the previous night, probably he and Joan didn't
get along so well, disgruntled former employee most likely. He was the
one I was looking for, or so I told myself.
And if it came down to it, I had my quotes out of the Porkster.
The guy behind the counter had a wired look, and the smell in the air
gave proof to the crime, also thought I spotted a bit of a seed on his
tattered T-shirt. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against heads, unless and
until they act snotty about it.
"Hi," I said.
"Yeah. Hi. We won't be getting the new Van Gogh books in until next
month, after the exhibit hits DC. Save us both some trouble."
"That's OK. I was really hoping to find works by some second-tier
abstractionist, so I could have it on the table and talk about how only
I knew what good art was. There must be someone you've bored your
friends with along those lines."
"I know you?"
"Ya don't have to. I'm looking for a guy named Don. Plays in a band with
a couple people who just died. He around?"
"Yeah. The one everybody went to. Another one last night. Both shooting
"Fontana. Other one had the name of Bateman."
"What? Don't look like you stayed in last night?"
"Wonderful substance. Surely. Know where I can find Don?"
"He ain't here."
"Where he be?"
"When's he supposed to be here?"
"I haven't checked the schedule in a while."
"You knew you had to be here."
"I got called in."
"OK. We're off on the wrong foot here. You had kind of a late night,
"Yeah. Late early. Start with the stuff before seven..."
"Think you're gonna crash, but you end up extra wasted."
"That's the scene."
"OK. Could you check the schedule for me? Or else tell me where I can
find him? I've got the names of other folks in his band, but they
weren't in much condition to talk last night. Been told Don's the one I
"Mister, who the fuck are you?"
"Name's Gaston. I'm working on this story for the Sun."
"Got an ID?"
"Not on me. Freelance type."
"Yeah. Right. Freelance. I'll check the schedule for you."
"Or you can just tell me where Don might be hanging. Some girlfriend.
Boyfriend. Crash pad. Whatever."
"Wouldn't know that."
The clerk turned around, opened the hatch to one of those Baltimore
basements. From the way he crouched I gathered it wasn't full-sized.
Funny thing, those basements. Used to joke that the only purpose they
served was a hideaway in the event of Viking invasion. Asian marauders,
no, they could fit in them. But anybody over six foot, never move around
in those pits.
Call me sleepy. I'd found another purpose for those basements. They
worked great if you wanted to duck out on a six-foot reporter. Didn't
hear any hatches opening downside, but I didn't to check. Raced out
front, doubled back, ran in a circle, finally figured out a way to the
There was a time, years ago when I was young and foolish, that I'd
actually given up smoking, lifted weights and cycled around as though I
cared. Of course I'd come to my senses, but I wasn't going to be setting
records, or even necessarily keeping pace.
Thankfully, the guy was in even worse shape than me. Livin' rasta
perhaps, but very much not playing soccer with gusto. Three turns from
the alley and you hit a major road, one of those median strips with
non-negotiable close-in iron bar fences to keep the locals from stealing
plants and selling them to, well, whoever it is buys stolen plants that
have just been snagged off a median strip.
I watched him try to hop the fence, fail, try again, get half over, snag
his pants on the metal, and drop prone, like an old dude after the
Viagra wears off. His face was bleeding, eyes had that fox gonna gnaw
off a limb look as he stared at his trousers and the interesting ribbon
connect they made to the fence post. Seeing me again, he tried to stand
"Oh don't bother. It was funny enough watching you get there, try and
hop the other side, you'll hit pavement and both of us are gonna die;
you from stupidity, me from hilarity."
He just looked at me.
"I take it you're Don, right?"
"Don, have you shot anybody recently? Have powder traces on your hands?
Registered weapon in your name, or a bunch of people who know you have
"Are you an illegal alien who's stayed here, working on a tourist visa,
terrified the man's gonna ship you back home?"
"Have you engaged in selling nuclear secrets to the Chinese?"
"Just say no. It was working for you."
"OK, then why in the name of nicotine did you take off and run? Are you
"Paranoid? You know, excessive consumption of marijuana, over an
extended period of time, causes certain behavior changes, among them
sleeplessness, lack of interest in sex..."
"Nobody says 'noid any more."
"Oh come on. Most likely, nobody ever did. I didn't have cable when I
was a kid. Stuck watching network crap. Left me stupid and out in the
"Still haven't answered my question. Why'd you run from me? Nobody's
afraid of me. People come up to me in bars and tell me how I don't scare
"Mister, I don't know you."
"That's why I was trying to have a conversation. The name's Gaston. If
you'll let me give you a hand, I'll tell you so much about me, you'll
care about me even less than you did when I first walked into your
store. My mother's name was Edwina. She moved to..."
"I get the picture."
"... Baltimore from her home in West Virginia with the family. One of
the youngest children of the Depression, she married my father and they
set up a decent, blue-collar type life just outside the city line..."
"Give me a hand."
"But you haven't yet found out about the great grades I got back in
reading class, and how that convinced me the one thing I absolutely had
to do was become a journalist. This was second-year elementary school,
of course, so I wanted to do that as well as be a fireman and rocket
pilot. Ain't it great how kids dream?"
"Fine. Fine. Help me."
He'd stood up, looking trapped and sad, like a puppy at the kennel. I
moved to help him, at first thinking the picture might be odd, one man
backing down a fence with another guy's face right at his ass, saying
"easy, easy, I got you," but of course this was Baltimore near the art
college, so all I was really doing was fitting in.
We crossed the street. He sat down on the curb.
"You walk OK."
"Don't you want to go back to the store? You know, lock up?"
"Think I just quit."
"OK. Leaving town?"
"Soon as I ditch you."
"You are, I believe, a material witness in a murder case. Possibly two.
When did you last see Fontana?"
"Couple hours before."
"Was he with that guy, Branson or somebody else?"
"Alone when I left him."
"How 'bout his girlfriend?"
"What about her?"
"Is she gonna run across the street, making an ass out of both of us? I
need to know 'cause I'll have to buy a pair of running shoes."
"No. She won't be like that. Mellow chick. Been around."
"Great. Still haven't told me why you rushed off?"
"'Cause somebody killed those two."
"Yeah. I didn't think they'd walked into a half-clip full of bullets by
"Right. OK. Cops are going to look into it."
"I believe so. Yes. Will take them some time though. Cops are like that.
Thorough, get yesterday's news next week. Did you think I was a cop?"
"No. You're not a cop."
"Did you think I was the killer?"
"Did you think?"
"Well look, I probably broke it to you hard. If I did, I'm sorry.
Thought all the people knew. Bateman have family?"
"Lot of pot smokers?"
"Just his band, all his friends, and the people he met casually."
"How long were you together?"
"Off and on. Years. Lot of years."
"OK. Did Bateman deal?"
"Did Fontana deal?" No reaction. Kind of a snort. Don had the ability to
make you want to smack him. Hard.
"Do you deal?"
"Not on me. Check back later."
"How much did you guys deal?"
"Had a friend, college, scored a QP every couple weeks from his sister
in Arizona. One spring break had an entire pound. Never much more than
an ounce since then."
"Gotta work the balloons, man. You barely pay for the hall otherwise."
"Entrepreneurial. But of course, all you going out stealing the nitrous
oxide tanks, explains why dental care costs have risen so sharply.
"Yeah. Kind of."
"OK to walk?"
"Sure. Where we going?"
"You don't want to go back to work?"
"Cops'll be there."
"Right. But if you're not, they'll really look for you. When they see
you now, they'll just want information. You give them that, you're
pretty much free to go."
"So let's go back where you work, lock the door, you smoke another bowl
or something, and then you can tell me about Fontana. And Bateman. And
Fontana's girl. OK?"
"Yeah. Sure. OK."
"Great. And don't take off on me again. You ever hear the line, 'flight
is evidence of guilt?'"
"Heard it. Some cop show."
"Great. Then here's the new one: flight is evidence of wanting to get
your ass kicked by a pissed-off freelancer who does not feel like
running after you."
The cops still hadn't come for Don by the time I split. He wedged
himself behind the counter, under a premise of stocking/inventory, he
moved a series of prints and canvasses in front of the windows, making
the place pretty dark.
Don had no idea who'd killed Fontana and Bateman, or why. But between
nervous glances out a small pane in the front door, said door it's
pretty sure the guy locked after I left, he did give up some info.
His last name was Lombard, no relation to the street, possible connect
with the Germanic tribes. Band had neared the verge of maybe, with a
couple of possible record company contacts. I believed that, because Mr.
Lombard had seen half a dozen other near the verge of maybes.
Of greater interest was what he had on Fontana's personal life. The
waitress had been an on and off thing for a while. He wasn't sure if it
was off or on currently. But Fontana worked something quiet as well,
dates and times unclear. In the event of scheduling conflict, Lombard
was unsure which once got called first.
He suspected they'd known about each other, hence the fact that neither
attended the funeral.
I got the name of the older one and the place she worked out of, Evelyn
Raphael, she sold something. They gave me the phone number, just voice
mail, "I'm on the other line right now."
Bored, figuring she'd be good at the telephone blow-off, and learning
that the other girl wouldn't be in until four, and discovering, during a
sophisticated investigation, that there were only three Raphaels in the
book, only one whose name started with E., and that E. had the same
phone number as the one I'd gotten from her place of business, I decided
to pay her a visit at home.
It was one of those great city houses, only a few blocks away from a
notorious body-dumping ground, rising on a hill with picket fences, old
design, like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm." Car was parked in the
driveway. No answer at the doorbell. Was about to leave when I saw a
large mass of muscle and teeth on the steps behind me.
Explained why she wasn't worried leaving her name in the book. I looked
at the dog, had that mental intruder's debate going on: "smile/not
smile; wave/not wave; urinate/not urinate/please not urinate."
But something was bugging the creature, or maybe he'd just eaten
salesman. Quiet as he was, and he was too damn quiet, I thought I caught
him whimpering. Remembering how none of the men escaped Cujo's gaping
jaws in that book, I figured what the heck, and reached out to him.
Slow. Hands below his head so he could track 'em at leisure.
He moved close to me, licked. One-hundred-and-eighty degrees from what
he'd been trained. Or else the salesbabe had bought one shitty dog. Tag
on neck read "Basker." Guess he was a famous breed. I looked at him.
Real careful I asked "go inside?"
Basker didn't do anything. "Inside?" I said again.
Nothing. Not a bark. Creepy. I turned around, slow, opened the door.
Basker pushed past me, raced inside and up the stairs.
"Hello?" Big enough house to have echoes. I figured I'd stay slow, not
want to freak out the master or the servant, she might be packing
something, he, planning something... maybe they taught him at school how
to make it look like an intruder.
Front parlor led into a kitchen. Place was decked out on a country
theme, copper pots hanging, crockery everywhere, replendent in what was
a likely expensive autumnal theme. Next room over had the fireplace,
quality home entertainment center, purchased from a major department
store, no doubt.
Books on the shelves, romances mostly, some over-sized art, one
biography of the Marquis de Sade.
I called out a few more times, both to Ms. Raphael and Basker. No
answer, so I went up the stairs, my feet smacking the hardwoods with
maximum force as I sought to announce my presence.
Just off the landing at the top of the stairs I found Basker. Ms.
Raphael was there too, well-wrapped in what would no doubt have been an
extraordinary black stockings-corset thing, had it not been for the
small holes and large red trails that rolled off her body and onto what
seemed to have been a recent upholstery job.
Of course everything started then. Couple of white kids get capped on
the street is front page, if the night's slow. Upper-ish class white
chick at home showing skin gets capped is lead story at five, if nobody
got nuked that day.
A mainstream reporter and I would share the byline, her doing the
writing on this one and chatting up the cops, me giving some notes.
Fontana's story was still mine.
Between detective chats I sat out in the parking lot, reminiscing with
some of the old camera crewman about a roving assignment editor, guy
who'd been fired from every job in the region for alcoholism and drug
addiction. We all remembered the day he'd gotten shot by the feds on
Interstate-95, following his 25th, and last, bank robbery.
The cynicism was there, making fun of the reporters, joking loudly when
the police spokesman got on camera, wondering out loud who was sleeping
with who. I was starting to feel like a newsman again.
Cops were trying to rattle me a bit for getting there before them, but
of course, they hadn't paid attention when it started, so most of that
afternoon got spent covering their own asses. Also they appreciated the
fact that Basker was calm around me. I got to hold him when they
examined the body. Big guy was loyal. Seriously loyal.
"The matter has been under investigation, and we are now reviewing
Love it when they say that. Like if they'd had any idea it wouldn't have
been leaked before the yellow "don't cross: tape got put up. I was
revving hard on the smug-and-sleepy combo when a girl walked up to me.
"Are you Gaston?"
I looked at her close. Multi-colored dreads, more rings in one ear than
doughnuts in a dozen. For a minute I'd thought I'd found Fontana's girl.
"Yeah. What do you need?"
"I took care of Eve's dog when she was away."
"Sweetie, he's all yours."
"Thanks, babe. Where can I get him?"
"Have to give your name and address to the cops. They'll make it real
easy on you. Nobody wants Basker. But hang on a second. Ms. Raphael
travel a lot?"
"Sometimes. She took vacations. Few business trips."
"How long you known her?"
"Off an on. Came into my restaurant. Tipped. Sat for a few drinks at the
"Over by the courthouse."
"It's a lot of fun at the courthouse."
"Yeah. All kinds of people up Calvert St."
"Walk on the wild side."
"You know, they think the same person killed her shot Fontana, and
"I know. I know. It's been happening so fast. I can't believe it. I
didn't know anybody well. But still. My night off. Thought I'd come, do
what I could."
"Anybody come in with her a lot? Anybody, not business-looking?"
"What, you mean looking odd to me?"
"You know what I mean?"
"She'd talk to people there. Cool lady. Knew what was what. Not like the
guys who came in."
"Didn't know what they were meeting, huh?"
"Hey, somebody's got to pay for designer pantyhose."
"Too tight for my budget."
"Glad you didn't talk about another area."
"Yeah. Figured you've been there."
"Can I give you a number, case you want to talk a bit more? Me and
Basker get along great now, so we could just talk about that. Or
anything you remember about Eve."
"OK. Evelyn. Sorry, nobody she worked with has come by. Haven't been
able to check the name."
"Least you said sorry. Lot of these folks -- they're making it sound
bad. Not surprised nobody else came by. Place she worked for sells stuff
to rich white people. Don't like that kind of press."
"Right. Last question before you get Basker. Was she part of the art
scene? Painting on the side?"
"No. Just went to a lot of shows. Sometimes brought her friends in.
Everybody loved her. She could bring in the money too."
"Heard anything about her and Fontana?"
"Already said last question."
"Right. Sorry. But, you know."
"No. I didn't. But I didn't know her personal life. Just her dog. Lot of
folks were supposed to be going out with that guy."
"I can help you with the cops if you give me your name."
"Cassie. Cassie Lupe."
"As in travel around?"
"L-U-P-E, as in probably screwed up wolf name or something."
"You're welcome. Come on, let's get the dog."
I met up with my byline mate at a 24-hour deep fry past the city's
waterfront drinking range. Her name was Margaret Ann, and despite her
pedigree I knew from some of the crew I'd met that she had at least done
some time, cutting her teeth working for a legendary weekly down south.
Her appearance worked to. Casual, but all business, like she didn't have
to worry about appearance so much; just getting the story. I even
thought twice before blowing smoke in her face.
"Sorry for that."
"It's OK. I'd been forewarned."
"Great. What's the rumor now?"
"You bit that arm of one of your editors back when you first started
out, growing more erratic until you got canned."
"Want to give me the whole story?"
"Nah. Got to keep some mystery. I ever have to park there again, know
for sure my car won't get scratched."
"Gaston, you don't strike me as a car guy. You know? Some guys, put a
lot of time into cars. Not you. Not a car guy."
"Right. Guess not. FUD's a positive though."
"Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. Heard it?"
"Did the business reports for two years before I got assigned to metro."
"So, have you heard it? Not much stock reporting in that paper."
"Yes. We pulled that kind of stuff off the wires all the time. Suspect
you mean you want people to be leery of you... vaguely."
"Based on a rumor."
"'Cause they're not afraid of the real thing anymore."
"Something like that. Anyway, about Ms. Raphael?"
"Yeah. Her background?"
"Sold stuff. Very upscale. Office suite decor. For offices too smart
ever to let in a guy like you, Gaston."
"Yeah, but Mary-Anne, what office isn't too smart for that. Why I like
to jump into places when most people are asleep."
"Right. I'll keep that in mind. My husband wouldn't like it though. So
"Sure. Who have your sources told you probably did the killing? Anyone
suspecting a former boyfriend? Restraining order in the recent past?
"No. Just know she was shot. Wearing a relatively exotic daytime
"Benefit of the doubt. They haven't been so definite about when she was
"Well, I'll bet you it was after midnight."
"And that's because?"
"Somebody else who knew a guy named Fontana got capped after midnight.
By the way, why were't you working on that one?"
"Oh, that's all yours. All yours. Haven't had the pleasure of working
"Right. OK. You know, she's great when you want to make fun of somebody.
Good way to pass the time."
"Yeah. But we're busy, so we usually do it behind her back."
"I'm starting to like you. Could be hug-time."
"Just a pat on the head. And only if you mean it."
"Right. Anyway, Mary-Anne, even after the story got screwed? I heard
half of it."
"The second reporter sent in was painted. Multiple colors."
"No. Just painted. And shaved."
"That's pretty cool. Neighborhood writing messages on old baldy. Hmm."
"No. He wasn't shaved... there. They left his those hairs just the way
"Heard he was assaulted. Ouch. Itchy."
"Right. He's since quit our organization to study for the GMATs, or the
LSATs, anyway, got mom and day to pay for grad."
"So, you didn't want to go in there?"
"And save Janice?"
"Plus, I've got my beat. Things have been pretty busy. Past couple of
weeks, in addition to the usual gang stuff and Saturday night special
features, we've had two women found dead in midtown."
"Prostitutes? Shot in the face? Couple days apart?"
"How'd you know? No. No. No. No."
"Somebody planned it. Got to get practice. You want to practice killing,
there's a minor league, get a few hits, move on to the show."
"Why? Is there money around? Big wad of cash? Relatively big wad of
cash? Some folks in those parts have been known to kill for quarters. A
ten grand stash..."
"Yeah. But whoever it is didn't both to snatch anything from Ms.
Raphael's place. Woman with secrets. Bet you 10 she'd have a safe or
something. Anyway, it would make sense to look. So money, I don't think
"What do you think?"
"Don't know. I didn't even know Raphael and Fontana were related. Can't
have been anybody tough, though. You're tough, or you think you are,
wouldn't have to practice. Hey, Mary-Anne, ever thought of going and
interviewing hookers on the west side of midtown? See if they saw
anything? Anybody acting out of hand? You know, those older ones..."
"Yeah. They got a sixth sense about it. Right? And they'd be more
comfortable talking to a woman reporter?"
"Well, at least I'm not asking you to try and dress like one."
"Thanks ever so much, Mr. Jedediah Gaston."
"Glad to see someone hangs with George."
"Got my back every night. What'll you be doing?"
"Well, there's Lombard, played with Gaston, knew him, two other band
members who were part-time affiliates. Think I met them last night when
Bateman was killed. The funeral MC wants to chat with me again. But of
course, there's the most important person of all."
"And that would be?"
"Fontana's other girlfriend."
"How many did the guy have?"
"Hush hush. You shouldn't even think those thoughts. You're married.
Centered in the hearth."
"Right. It's because I'm married I think those thoughts. How many did
the guy have?"
"You're not asking me to tally up the roadkill, are you?"
"Roadkill? Term I hadn't heard."
"Well, the other road term isn't so polite for young ladies?"
"Meow, Mr. Gaston? Only fun we'd have when I got started was running
over to Mobile and Nashville, life on the street in sultry southern
"I see. Yeah. Color me stunned. No doubt I'm the naive one. Anyway, I'll
try to find Fontana's main girl. At least so far as I know. I called,
she hasn't been to work. But there's still questions about Ms. Raphael?"
"Life on Calvert?"
"That's the place."
"Well, as my editors have it, she did work out with some serious law
firms and such, going into the district court. And of course, she'd
entertain clients at a place that was convenient."
"And of course, those law firms do lots of business with the city."
"Right. And she was just alone. The victim of a heinous crime."
"Don't need to know anything about her livelihood. Since it wasn't a
jealous boyfriend or jealous mate of boyfriend, right, Mr. Gaston?"
"I remember this drill."
"You'll have to do better on it. Or next time it's drop and give me 20."
"Well, guess some things I don't need to know. Though of course, I do
have a connection with a friend, girl from that district who's got the
dog now. Raphael have any family?"
"Brother a thousand miles away. All we know so far. Maybe a sister or
"Great headlines for them."
"It's been toned down. Even the pictures won't be shown, just her in a
"Yeah. When should we make contact again?"
"Soon. Please. Here's my cellphone number. I understand you never answer
"First people find you, then they start relying on you, then they take
you for granted..."
"Then they kill you bit by bit?"
"Not as poetic as I was going for. But OK."
"Yeah. I'll get the check."
"City girl making it. Husband a doctor?"
"Works for a biotech."
"Never mind. I'll get the check."
"I know how much your paper pays. And I've done work for biotechs.
Especially around here, imagine, towards the end, when they only pay
people in stock options."
"Haven't reached that point yet. But thanks. Should have ordered the
lobster on you."
"Nah. Need you healthy."
"Oh, it's OK. I've talked to prostitutes on the west side before. They
really don't mind it when you throw up."
"Right. Later, Mary-Anne."
Having the time, thought I'd check back in with Branson. Let me know I
cared, just in case he'd got something important to tell me. Guy picked
up on the first ring, sounded eager.
"Yo. Man. Gaston. Where you been? Have something else to tell you."
"Let me guess. Fontana had another girlfriend."
"No. Well, yeah. Her. She's dead."
"I know. I found her. You know her?"
"Nah man. Typical stuff. That guy. He was into a kind of lady."
"You know, been touched a lot."
"Been touched. OK. Sure. Right. Guess the lady would qualify. But you
didn't know the deceased."
"No -- well yeah. I saw her around."
"And you wouldn't have had experience, kind of places she'd come by in.
Used to hang out in a bar on Calvert?"
"Right. East side. Yeah. Young man over on the east side, not in
college. Know what kind that is? Right. Want to hear what this old dude
calls folks from over there?"
"What would that be?"
"Hebeshebes. OK. I'll probably use that one. Mr. Lou, you've proven
yourself worth 35 cents. I'll call you again."
"Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. I heard some things from some folks."
"About a big thing coming in."
"What kind of deal? Record deal? Drug deal? Shipload of Asian illegals
to work the sex trade? Scratch that last one, enough underpaid locals in
the industry already, sex shop owners get worried, somebody start a
union or something. What kind of deal?"
"I don't know. Just, a big one."
"Right. OK. A big deal. Anyone in particular tell you?"
"No. I'm just helping you out, right. Nobody special."
"Guys on the street."
"Something like that."
"Thanks for your help. I'll be in touch."
Definition of a loser: guy who's trying to impress someone way down on
the totem pole, and failing badly. Social-climber's equivalent of only
hitting on ugly girls with indifferent personalities; if you lose,
you're a dork in front of friends, you win, oooh.
Still no luck with Fontana's girl. The other one. I'd told the cops and
they were checking too. Mary-Anne had connections, promised to let me
know quick if anybody'd heard anything. I wandered around the small art
galleries north of the harbor, everyone talking about Evelyn, how they
missed her, already.
Lady was supposed to have a vibrancy, enthusiam. Brought in people,
women, men, all of 'em loaded, rip-ready to spend, her steering them
towards "appropriate outpourings of the human spirit that meshed well in
a set decor." Or something like that.
The gallery owners would really miss her. Said the best thing she did
for them was come in with a single guy. Older, loaded, ranking eight out
of ten on the passive-aggressive scale. Got the impression same faces
were showing up time and again, but it was closed door in terms of
seeing names on checks.
Figuring I'd been on the go long enough, I grabbed a hotel room, whipped
off a few paragraphs that I read into Mary-Anne's voice mail, watched
cable for approximately 60 seconds, and fell dead asleep.
That night I dreamed of Fontana, sought him out through neighborhoods
and zones. first I read the leaflets on posts by college-themed pubs in
Charles Village, then a shred of a silkscreened T in a gutter near the
gay bars, then the waterfronts, the parksides, everywhere he'd been the
crowd giving the same quiet respect.
Finally I chased him through the old vaudeville playplace, down East
Baltimore St., the tattered strip bars giving way by the power of
reverie to burlesques and nickelodeons. for a moment I paused near a
old-style carnie barker, his bullhorn-powere pitch a combination of
ocean-front mayhem and city market abacab, both of us staring down a fat
woman as she glanced at herself before a trio of funhouses mirrors, the
likenesses combining to form a gross parody of a gross parody of a gross
parody, when I thought I saw Crofton making the turn down Gay St.
I went to follow him, sure I'd catch him on what was once the
Mid-Atlantic's street of dreams, where so many farm boys visited and
never again returned home, but the curve led me to boarded up houses,
the avenue cut off to make way for an oversized interstate.
Fontana was nowhere in sight.
Clock said 3:17 when I woke up. Mary-Anne had checked back with me, said
she'd taken my text verbatim, also indicated that Janice wanted to
coordinate with both of us and dispense editorial input. Mary-Anne
indicated that anytime would be fine for that, by her schedule, as long
as the meeting occured after her dog was done with the first set of
Still not sure on that one, but Mary-Anne had always seemed the spaying
type to me, and with her help I could get paid anyway.
The other bit of news was that the cops still hadn't found Fontana's
girlfriend. Nobody seemed sure whether she was a witness, a suspect, a
potential victim, or all the above, but they really, really wanted to
talk to her.
Not many places you can look for a girl at 3:30 in the morning. Or
rather, there's places you can to look for a girl, but not one in
particular. I thought about how a good reporter would be going over to
Calvert St. right about then, trying to find out if anyone working the
zone had been on good terms with the late Ms. Raphael.
The likely scenario of me getting confused for a John by a Johnette, or
worse, by some cops watching, took the fun out of that idea. Also, the
lady would have had to be discreet if she was working some scam like I
thought she was, so I convinced myself it wasn't worth looking at. In
any event, the likelier possibility was that she was out there hustling
up younger talent, teens between 15-20, on the city-county line, which
of course fell into Mary-Anne's territory. I'd tell her to check it
Having established firmly tha I wasn't going to be talking to any
prostitutes that evening, there remained very little else to talk to.
Fontana moving drugs seemed out. Couldn't think of a club that was still
open. Sensible thing to do would have been to fall back asleep. Still,
when you're up late in the city that breeds and don't want to drive to
the county for 24-hour corporate chain grease and fries, you have to
take that walk and find yourself something to do.
For me, it was Greek food, made by Iranians, in a place owned by a
Korean. Who says Crabtown ain't got an ethnic mix.
Guilt hit me as I left the hotel lobby. Place I stayed was on St. Paul,
speedy jaunt through a marble statue park, and I was on lower Calvert.
Since I was working on a theory about the place, had to at least check
it for a minute, even if it was too late to discover much.
I wandered down street, past the cooking school, saw a few dubious
genders, stepped quietly past the Holocaust Memorial, my ears awash in
the sounds of distant copulation, when I heard a new noise.
Shouts from up the street, too far and too dark to see much, but they
were getting closer.
Got the walk straight instinct as I saw a lone man rushing towards me.
He was in his 40s, at least, Army surplus jacket, likely earned his
living on a corner with a sign. He saw me and stopped first. I kept
walking. Like it was nothing.
"Leon. Come on Leon. Gotta stay somewhere tonight, Leon. Lee-yon."
The noise wasn't coming from him. Somebody far behind, but getting
The man near me got his courage up. Approached. "Say hey buddy, can you
spare a man a dollar for a coffee."
What the hell. "Sure," I said, pulling some cash from my pocket.
"Thanks man," he said, this was presumably Leon. "Listen, don't go back
there. You'll get beat up."
"I'll bear that in mind."
He took off, once again at a dead run, though perhaps a happier gait
than previously. The "Leons" were drawing closer now. I glanced forward
and detected one of the stranger apparitions I'd observed in many years.
Barreling down towards me was a 300-pound transsexual, his ensemble
decidely floral, moustache carefully waxed to match the color of his
Upon seeing me, he ceased his cries, city air immediately turned
tranquil, apart from the faint sirens, without his primal yawps of hope
"Did you just see Leon?"
"I presume so, yes."
"Did you give Loen money? You gave Leon money, didn't you? How could you
give Leon money? What's wrong with you?"
"Um, he asked for it."
"Don't you know never to give someone like Leon money?"
"Well, it's late."
"Don't you know he'll just spend it on getting some hits?"
"Kind of late for that."
"But you know what you did is wrong. And now you've me just like this.
How could you?"
"I'm just basically a bad person."
"Well, we already know that. Don't you even want to try to make amends?"
"How am I supposed to do that? I could never be Leon."
"Well no, you most certainly could not. Not in a lifetime. No sir. But
you can make amends."
"How? You can do for me what you did for him. That way I can follow him
and make sure he has someplace to go home to."
"OK. But only because it's for Leon." I gave him $20.
"Thank youuu." He ran off. Decent speed. Make a pretty good linebacker.
Not sure about his quickness though.
Figuring nothing could top that, I continued on, when I saw a 30-ish
woman and two teens. They looked angry. Approaching, one of them reached
out at me. I turned, went into a basic martial arts stance I'd picked
"He know Karate?" One of them said.
"Aikido," I shot back. Thinking the name exotic enough for them not to
test whether I'd gone past two weeks of lessons. I hadn't, of course.
"Come on, we don't want to mess with him." This was the woman.
"He don't look like much." Other teen.
"He didn't call me a bitch." Woman again.
I had to ask: "why would either of them call you a bitch?"
"Don't know. What you mean?" She said.
"Nothing. Just seems to me like, you know, both of them been somebody's
bitch. Makes it kind of hypocritical." This brought laughter, connection
between urban souls. All thoughts of violence were abandoned, happily.
Of course I had to pass out money again. Then when we parted company,
for some reason, all four of us hugged.
Calvert Street was still very much as I'd remembered it.
I made it to the Greek place without further incident. Squeezing into a
counter-spot with a view of meat spinning openly, attracting the buzzing
flies that gave a gyros its special taste, I was treated to the sounds
of Baltimore at post-drinking gourmet. Four guys at the counter, one
half-pretty girl looking longingly at the leader, though her arms were
wrapped around another. The conversation centered on ejaculation.
"So yeah. Hey, you know, you're drinking, you're with her, you're
grinding it out. You get tired sometimes. Right? She wants you to
finish. Maybe -- maybe you're doing like a real good job, right. Yeah.
But it's got to get done. So the guy -- every guy, you know, they go
"uuh," get out of bed and wash off. Finito. Only he didn't finish.
Girl looked up. "I don't believe you." But her eyes showed she'd take
anything he said.
Leader was ready. "Come on guys. Show of hands. Who's faked it? You?
Right? Ritchie? Right?"
They all nodded. Even one guy, kind of big, looking like he maybe didn't
have much chance to do it for real, let alone fake it.
Leader was looking my way. I wasn't I felt like dealing with anybody.
Least not 'til my Polish were ready. "How's about you? You ever fake
"Fake it? Me. Yeah. Guess so. Yeah. I've done it."
"See? What I tell you? Everbody's done it. Everybody. You all thnk
you're so hot. Just more repressed about it. We do it all the time too.
Just ain't a big deal. Hey, we're thinking of you."
Some laughter here. A few high-fives. I looked closer at 'em, they had
band stickers on their jackets, but enough baseball memorabilia to make
me think they were local, despite accents that traced their roots more
to cigarettes and beer than anything along the Chesapeake Bay basin.
It was fun to just listen to them for a while, mellow, eating my hot
dog. Eventually, I asked the leader, name was Brian, about the events
over the past couple of days.
"Did you know that guy?"
"What? Fontana? Not directly."
This brought giggles from Brian's entourage. "What do you mean?"
"What do I mean? Well, we were connected to him. A little bit at least.
Something we shared."
"How's that? Seems like everybody's claiming they knew him."
"Well, you're talking about bands. Yeah. You knew him. Or you heard
about him. Wild guy, he'd be up there, playing, like he could do drums
or jazz, you'd swear, guy heard the music once, you know, you could stop
the music on him -- not stop the music, like just so he couldn't hear
it, but you still could? Get what I'm saying?"
"Yeah. I think so."
"And Fontana, he'd jump right back in there. With you. And it'd be like
he didn't miss a note. Nothing. No missed rhythm, had the tune there, in
his own mind. Ever hear of perfect pitch?
"He did that too?"
"Nah. Didn't sing. But he had it. Could have been anything. Hated that
"Hated him? Nobody hates him."
One of the crowd shot out: "somebody must've."
Brian got mad. It was the heavy one with the interruption. Brian gave
him a look. Heavy gave the sign for "sorry, don't hit me." Brian
"Yeah. Somebody must've. But not me, man. Got something on him. He could
make anything play. Had to cancel gigs 'cause he's gone. But I got
something on him. We all do."
"What's that?" I asked.
"Larry's sister." This was heavy again. But they all laughed. Hard.
"Tell him," heavy said. "Tell him about Larry's sister."
"We all went down the ocean with Larry's sister. Right? Me, Scott, Eric,
Carl, all of us. Just us guys. And her. And we get to hanging out, you
know, drinking, smoking. Just rocking all around. It's wild. So we're
out looking too, you know. And it's like that."
"The contest, man. Tell him about the contest." Heavy again.
Yeah. We're all having a contest. Only we don't know it at first. I
don't know who was the one figured it out."
Nobody said anything.
"Like we realize, we've all been banging her. Every one of us. Great
trip. And it keeps up. And we know it. And she knows it. Well of course
she knows it. So each night, you know, it's like, who's taking her into
the back of the trailer? It's whoever can stay up."
"Whoever can..." I added. "Whoever can stay up. 'Cause we're all banging
her. But we're drinking. We've got good smoke. It's a blast. So every
night, power bong hits."
They all laughed again.
"And then, whoever's still up. They get to hang with Larry's sister."
"That's right." Heavy. "Man, got wild. Never seen pot go so fast."
"Right. We burn through, must've been a QP, that week."
"And Larry's sister?" This was entertaining.
"We don't even talk about it. Not one time while we're there. We're all
banging her. We're all competing to get her. And we're not talking about
it. Not even on the ride home. There's only one time we mention it."
"After we get home, the itch starts."
"We all had crabs."
They laughed. I laughed too. Poor Larry's sister.
"So we've got to go to the drugstore, right? Get the shampoo."
"So all of us, we walk down, go see the lady, order that shampoo. One
after another. 'Hi, I need a bottle of that.' Slam down 10. 'Hi, I need
a bottle of that.' Slam down 10."
"'Hi, I need a bottle of that.' Slam down 10." Heavy
"And we go home and put it on. We're all just thinking, man, 'cause
she's maybe gonna marry somebody respectable."
"Nice body." Heavy.
"And we're all wondering, she gives us an invitation, what do we say?"
"And then Fontana..." Heavy. Brian was mad now.
"And then Fontana," Brian's voice gets real quiet, I don't know if it's
the story or 'cause he wants to smack heavy. "Fontana shacks up with
"Only it's not the beach." Heavy'd better learn."
"Right. It's not the beach. She's going to concerts with him. You see
them buying clothes together. And shit, back when she had a band, she
banged some guy from out of town, threatened to tell his girlfriend if
he didn't let her band open for him. That kind of chick. Half this town
"Man, straight out of afternoon TV."
"Right, only she didn't wear nothing shows her tits. Should have. But
Fontana gets all in love with her. For a while she didn't even work."
"He must've been the one paid for the shampoo." Heavy. But they all
"She's living with her right to the end. Man. They were gonna breed. Guy
could play, but he didn't know shit about women."
"Well, guess some guys like that," I said. "Experience."
"Yeah," said Brian. "But she wasn't no good at it."
They all laughed. I doubted I could print this, so I didn't bother to
get names. Story kept getting stranger. But what the heck.
I thanked them all, said goodbye, wondered how I was gonna find Larry's
sister. Thought of calling Janice, maybe I could tell her the story, get
her to subsidize an investigation into area strip clubs.
Wouldn't work. Even Janice was too smart for that.
I walked back to the hotel room, my nose drenched in that peculiar urban
morning combo of soft dew, cracked asphalt, and the semi-sweet rank of
chunky vomit. Watching the sun rise I tried to get a fix on Fontana,
what kind of guy he was, hero and laughing stock, great friend and foil.
Whatever the riddle was, had to have something to do with his women. Not
many people knew about his association with Ms. Raphael. Only thing put
them together for certain in my mind was the fact both were dead. Maybe
the guy was at heart a legit feminist, behind my scope to judge, I'd
never previously used that synonym for sucker.
Finding Larry's sister, though. I could look up Larry, maybe, but it'd
be time-consuming, and odds weren't great he'd tell me if he knew. Funny
thing, I used to know a lot of girls who slept around.
It made for interesting lunchtime conversations, though I kept my
distance, and tended to get so drunk I embarrassed myself whenever one
of them starting even considering me as a good life partner. There was
no good reason for why they did it, apart from the psychobabble missing
dad/drunk dad/underappreciative dad/name your whatever but it's 'cause
Still, when all you've got is a second-year social science text to guide
you, might as well try and live it up. This was a girl who, for whatever
reason, needed men. So when one she relied on had died, she'd either be
with another one real fast, or else holed up where she'd known the last
guy, perched on his turf, smelling his dirty socks or whatever.
Either way, the cops and I had both been looking in the wrong place for
her. One thing she wouldn't be doing is going to her own lonely house.
In front of Fontana's club I found Don Lombard and a couple of faces I'd
seen the place Bateman was killed. "Mr. Lombard. I take it you're with
"Yeah. That's us."
The group wasn't real glad to see me. I get that sometimes.
"What y'all doing?"
"We're gonna bust inside and steal all of Fontana's hidden money." That
"I see. Any of you other folks want to reintroduce yourselves? It's been
a long couple of days, hard to keep track of names."
Three band members, varying stages of body-piercing and tattooing. All
look alike to you after awhile, though I was sure I could make up
differentiating characteristics if the time came. Names were Mattie and
Markie and Johnny, or something like that. Lombard spoke for them.
"So, yeah. Just figured we ought to meet."
"Decide if anybody else here's shooting somebody?"
"No, we're not doing that." That was Mattie. Or Markie.
"Would you admit it if you had?"
"Kind of an assertive style for you, Gaston?"
"Yeah. Funny thing, some folks, every time I talk to them, gotta watch
him close make sure they don't hang their asses out on the nearest
median strip. Got to be an undocumented white people compulsion. Seems
to me like, in the worst cases, you'll get that urge, Lombard, to move
to a trailer or cabin in one of them big flat square states to the west.
And we all know nothing good comes from stuff like that."
"Right. Sure." I hadn't phased him. Bad sign.
"So, whatcha all doing? Haven't answered me yet."
"Wanted to get our stuff," this had to be Johnny.
"Cool. And you left your stuff at Fontana's place since when?"
"Since the last night we played together." Lombard again. So helpful."
"And that was on which date? Which location?"
"Five nights out. Some town to the south. Go there a lot."
"Let me guess, I've heard his schedule, you passed a river named for a
guy, where it met up with a river named for a girl, everywhere around a
bunch of drunk sailors. Right?"
"Yeah. Not in Virginia Beach, but a place near there."
"Cool. And that was pretty much the last time most of you saw him alive.
"That's right." This was Mattie again. Or Markie. I resolved to select
names at random if I ended up pulling the dialogue.
"So what happened?"
"That's a long story." Lombard.
"I got the time to come by this place. I sure as hell can sit for this.
You three must've had time to get your stories straight by now, right?
Test it out on me first, then you go to the cops with it."
"What's your deal, Gaston? You don't think we killed him."
"No. Probably not. On the other hand, for a while there nobody was
thinking about who killed him at all. So I guess I have to think of
everybody. You know Ms. Raphael's dead, don't you Lombard?"
"I heard it."
"So that means five people were killed. In about a week and a half.
Might be more coming."
"Five?" This was -- one of them.
"Yeah. Two prostitutes were murdered about a week before Fontana was
shot. Same MO. No good reason for them to die. Dangerous business
they're in, but still. A friend of mine is looking into it. What can you
guys tell me? Why'd he get killed? And if you don't know, what was the
last show like?"
"He was wild." One of them.
"Shut up. He was mellow. Really riding it out. Nice style." Another one.
"No, he was wild." First one again.
They started fighting. I watched. They disagreed. More and more. Strong
opinions. Sky looked like rain.
"OK. OK. Hold it. Time to go in. One of you talk at a time. OK? Chill,
Lombard did a trick on the front door, opening it through a handle lift.
We moved into the lobby of Fontana's place.
Story I pieced together of Fontana's last concert is as follows:
He and the rest of his band headed down to the Norfolk-Tidewater region
in a van piloted and owned by Bateman. They played some hall whose
audience consisted of wealthy college kids, sailors, couple of young
reps from the shipbuilders union, and the odd fundamentalist Christian
there to let Satan know he was being carefully observed for the
reckoning that was sure to come.
Wild crowd, but of course the sailors were the loudest. Everybody agreed
Fontana had been different that night. Lombard was sure he was wasted,
on something cool; I detected a bit of anger against the man for the
presumed sin of not sharing. Mattie and Markie, or maybe it was Johnnie
and Markie, I'm pretty sure it wasn't Johnnie and Mattie, were of the
opinion Fontana had just taken too many pulls off the grain.
Whatever, it's clear something was different: As with any occasion when
playing to a military crowd, particularly a southern one, you'll get
shouts for "Free Bird," the Skynyrd classic that justifies that rocking
death to many the "serious" guitarist.
Feeling strange, Fontana launched into the set, lot of steel, decent
beat, solo. He even sang it. The rest of Gonzo Jim Thompson were stuck
looking at their instruments and feeling pretty stupid. Then he played,
and, gets strange, was even better than usual.
Maybe it was the death factor, but they all had me believe they were on
stage with a presence, only way to do him justice would be not
name-dropping Fontana next to anybody, just, let's say, he'd have earned
his own name and spawned a legion of bad imitators had he always played
The effort before them was infectious. Gang agreed that, even though it
was hardly their regular crowd, they'd given it the all, both for their
own songs and the covers. Lombard remembered a serious response to a
Nine Inch Nails tune they ripped. Unclear how the Christians reacted
upon hearing that God was dead.
Instead of heading home early or trying to haul groupies into the fetid
embrace of a cheap motel, they'd all wanted to hang with Fontana that
night; see what had gotten into him, or just feeling the joy of really,
Fontana was all out. His behavior scoring way high on the Lizard King
scale. He'd gotten bottles out of the bar owner after promising to come
back in two weeks, and took the crew on a jaunt through Norfolk central.
Or else Tidewater. Nobody quite remembered, and apparently the borders
are hard to spot.
Anyway, Fontana's with them, and they pass a hospital that's under
construction. Mount name your biblical phrase. They're talking to him
one minute, the next thing anybody knows he's halfway up the
scaffolding, holding the bottle in his hand while zooming up.
At first nobody says anything, they've got that kind of fear about
waking up a sleepwalker. But they can't let him go, and it seems like a
real good chance to check out where the river named for the girl meets
the river named for the guy.
So they all jump up after him. Figuring when they get to the roof, they
can have a real party.
Well, nobody's got anything like Fontana's agility, so while they all do
make up top, it's several minutes since they saw him. But hey, they're
ready to party.
Fontana's been alone too long. Or maybe it's wearing off. Or maybe he
didn't spill much of that now-nearly empty bottle. They get to the roof
and he's talking to somebody. Only it isn't them. He's a total mess.
Sort of like pleading with whoever, only there's nobody up there except
sky, clouds, and some pollution wafting over from the steelyards.
They're all kind of scared, wondering how they can be successful if he's
got to get that messed up to play.
Then Fontana sees them. Kind of smiles. Sobers up. Quits talking. Acts
like he was trying to sing a tune. Lombard's willing to agree, that he
was singing. Other three are less sure. They also got to the roof before
Lombard, so you trust them more.
However it happens, party's pretty much over. Trip down from the roof is
nowhere near as much fun as the one going up. Mattie or Markie says he
was thinking maybe Fontana's gonna jump, they all thought Fontana didn't
care as much about the drop potential as they did. Everybody recalled
Bateman as being much cooler with it, but Bateman was closer to Fontana
than anyone else in that band.
Trip home was uneventful. They agreed to practice per schedule after a
well-deserved two days of rest. Then Fontana got shot.
Same second-year social science text that let me justify my pre-verdict
on Larry's sister had it that Fontana's behavior was that of a man who'd
stopped caring about something, either a big problem he'd been facing,
money, relationship, kid on the way, or maybe life itself; going hog
wild is pretty typical at the end, great samurai expect death, weaker
ones fake it.
Beyond that, girl wasn't on the premises. Band was cleaning up the spot,
considering putting together some kind of gig. They were worried a bit
people would think they were cashing in. They were worried more they'd
seriously suck without Fontana and Bateman.
Thought it'd make a great close to the story if they did play, so I
didn't give my honest opinion of what the outcome of such a show would
I'd check out one or two other Fontana hangouts after I swapped notes
with Janice and Mary-Anne.
On the phone, Janice's voice had more of a passive aggressive lilt than
"Mr. Gaston, you really should have contacted me before now. I've been
trying to explain..."
"I'm not going to fall for that."
"Yes you will. Come on, who you kidding? You'll fall for all of it if it
means you can maybe survive. Anyway, coming out of the AMWS."
"A meeting with superiors. I know how you journalism students love cute
acronyms when it comes time to sound 'on it.'"
"Yes. And they..."
"Wanted to know what the hell I was doing, and whether or not you were
keeping close tabs, both on me and my expenses."
"Because being in the throes of a blind corporation some 3,000 miles
away, they gotta first and foremost MTBB and CTA."
"Make the books balance, and cover their asses."
"Right. So I have to..."
"Throw them a bone. You're really not very good at this. Thought your
senior year must have been spent sitting alone, just thinking up
initials people'd only get if they bothered to read on. Anyway, TC..."
"OK. Right... TC..."
"You know, acronyms sound pretty stupid when you try them out, don't
"Tell your bosses Mary-Anne and I believe that the murders of Fontana,
Bateman and Ms. Raphael are connected to the deaths of two prostitutes
recently. By the way, do you know the difference between Gothic and
"No. Should I?"
"Great. Just tell them Fontana's band was into Industrial."
"OK. I hadn't heard that."
"It's not even true. But of course, Goths have been having it rough
lately in the press, and Mr. Fontana, Bateman with him, played all kinds
of music. Nobody's into Industrial anymore, all the good warehouses got
snagged by the urban renaissance."
"By the way, did Mary-Anne leave behind a report on the autopsy? Was
hoping she'd have a copy."
"No, but she is right here, I can grab her for you."
"Well OK Janice, but you haven't yet UJRHFU."
"Underqualified journalist rationalizes her failings... unconvincingly.
And just 'cause you fell for it, do people like you still say the
hardest thing about your job is when the manuscript on your desk that
you couldn't make time for is the one that turned out great? Or have you
given up on that one and taken the new tack, explaining that even in
Balzac's day the print-shops were under fire from the artists?"
"I'll go get Mary-Anne."
"Sure. I'll hold."
Must have rattled her. She forgot to sentence me to Muzak in
retribution. Mary-Anne wasn't immediately forthcoming, so I lit a
cigarette and waited.
Finally Mary-Anne arrived.
"Hi byline buddy. How's tricks?"
"Puns aren't your style. I went back and interviewed a number of
"What's the fashionable hooker wearing this week?"
"Clothes, though not very much of them, and not in an especially
"I'll keep that in mind. Anybody see anything? What were you going on
"Thought it was a jealous boyfriend. They have them, you know. Then the
thinking went that somebody new had come in and was just setting an
"Not quite "A" student material, but I get you. So what people see?
"Everything strange. Hard to tell in that environment. They've seen a
lot more cars just cruising, but maybe they're just looking for it.
Nobody's taking on folks they don't know. As far as specific faces,
maybe you could give me an idea?"
"Just got up from a long nap."
"Your dedication is stunning."
"So, police told you anything about Ms. Raphael?"
"Well, Gaston, I heard she was dead."
"Lovely. Thought I was supposed to be the sarcastic one."
"You just woke up. I need a long nap."
"You can snuggle with your husband later. I'm sure he's got elaborate
molecules to discuss with you."
"I'll keep that in mind. But for now, I have been pouring over the
autopsy of Ms. Raphael."
"What? That fast? Come on, city medical examiner has even less of a
budget than previous. You got a favor, you got a favor."
"Girl's gotta have some secrets. Want to hear it?"
"Shot with a weapon roughly the same caliber as that used in the
killings of Fontana, Bateman, Sharis Lewis and Simone Martin."
"Wow. The prostitutes have names now. Fontana's girl was the sister of
somebody named Larry."
"Wonderful. Ms. Raphael apparently didn't have intercourse in the
preceding -- well, 72 hours at least, more likely seven days."
"OK. Maybe she was a top."
"There'd be bruising; wasn't any."
"All right. How's about ligature marks and the like, wrist scuffings,
things of that sort."
"No. Nothing like that."
"Calluses on her fingertips from cracking the whip?"
"Oh, all we women do that, Gaston. Never shows."
"You're wrecking my elaborate sex-scandal theory here."
"Well, if it can't stand up to little me."
"You got to love the storyline, at least; somebody has to have sent you
into one of those shops."
"Yeah. And here's the punchline:"
"Nothing Ms. Raphael wore was bought speciality. Kind of thing you can
get at any mall in North America. But strictly R-rated, if ratings mean
"Even Oklahoma? Thought they had laws."
"Silly man. Shops like that do their best business in Tulsa. Don't know
if the church wives flip the little bag around when snagging a diet on
the way out, but mail order's just dreamy."
"Oh too bad. It was the kind of story you could write without having to
check facts or talk to anybody. I guess you had to have gone to a really
good college if you want to write that way."
"Yeah. So, you're back to work now?"
"I did do a bit of checking. Apparently everyone who's anyone in this
town knows Fontana's other girlfriend."
"Got a lead on her?"
"I mean knows in the biblical sense. And unfortunately, she wasn't the
type you called about afterwards."
"Oh. Oh my."
"Keeps getting better. There's also a last night problem."
"Don't know how to explain it. Stories have a way of building up after
the end. Get what I'm talking about?"
"Think I've observed the phenomenon in person, yes."
"Well, Fontana was apparently wild on his last gig with the band."
"Living like he wasn't afraid of dying. And climbing medium height
commercial buildings to prove it."
"I see. And you found this out when?"
"After my nap. Snuck into his club. I was with the band."
"They never respect you after you do that."
"Nope. They never do. So what does it mean?"
"Tell ya the truth, I have absolutely no clue."
"I'd guessed that about you."
"You are such a sweetheart. Admit it, husband does more than his share
of household chores."
"We have a fine distribution of labor. He cooks the food, I eat it."
"I'll keep looking for Fontana's girl. Would you see if you can't find
out more on Ms. Raphael's finances?"
"I'll check into it. Any other suspects?"
"Suspects? Hell, I'm the one found the body."
"Yes. You are."
"Well, maybe I'd better try and find someone else to blame. I'll talk
with the girl who picked up Ms. Raphael's dog for starters."
"That's probably a good strategy. Think you can pin it on the dog?"
"I'm worried somebody's out of practice."
"Mary-Anne. Didn't I make Janice cry just from a phone call?"
"You did that, yes."
"And this after already speaking with her and expressing my distaste on
several occasions. She knows me by now."
"So how can you say I'm out of practice?"
"Well, I'd give you that. But she cries all the time. Makes it difficult
when you're sneaking a cigarette in the bathroom."
"Oosh. Well, guess I'll stop being impressed with myself and get to
work. Make for a nice change of pace."
"OK. You do that. I'll write up another story."
"Not mentioning that the deaths may be connected."
"I'd like to. But right now, Mr. Gaston, you're my best and almost only
"Maybe. But just one question."
"You've got a successful, available woman who looked reasonably
attractive even with half the contents of her skull dripping onto the
stairs. Shopping like that means she's into it. Living like that, house,
canines as surrogate offspring, means she's aiming to stay single. Kind
of person me and approximately 135 million other American men would like
"Yes. I think I see what's coming."
"Why is it she doesn't go with anyone from the time Fontana dies?"
"Right. Good one."
"Why's she dressed up to get with someone at the time Fontana dies. And
before you get cocky, I do know women aren't lounging around the house
like that. Not so comfortable."
"There's three possibilities. She's meeting someone else who doesn't
have sex with her and kills her in the same way Fontana was killed.
Possible, but not super likely. The four previous deaths would have
needed to generate a whole lot more press."
"Second is she's meeting someone who knows both her and Fontana,
planning to have sex with him, and he kills her the same way he killed
"There weren't any women the other hookers remembered, right,
"None that stood out. But they did get at least an occasional visitor of
the same persuasion."
"I'm sure. And you no doubt checked thoroughly. But two taking off with
a woman and getting killed in the same way as Fontana, Raphael and
Bateman, and nobody sees it?"
"Third chance is she's thinking about her lost lover. How they, you
know, were together or whatever. Get the impression that Fontana was
into the nastier elements of the nasty."
"And someone comes along and shoots her before she gets changed. But the
problem with this one is:"
"Where's the dog?"
"Right. Where's the dog."
"So you're thinking..."
"That all of this is connected, and Fontana & Ms. Raphael must have
really pissed somebody off."
"Right. OK. I'll buy it. Won't write about it yet, but I'll buy it. Call
me when you talk to dog guardian?"
"Surely. See what you can find about Ms. Raphael's finances. Also Mr.
"God. Gaston. First streetwalkers, now banks and land deals."
"I know. I'm giving you all the sleaze. I did check out Calvert St.
"It's the same."
"That's what I discovered. Yes."
"Call me at six, please. I should have something."
"Will do. Bye Mary-Anne."
I called Basker's sitter, Ms. Lupe, and set up an appointment to chat
about the life and times of Ms. Raphael. Her apartment was in a building
next to a bar that featured live dancing, guess it was convenient to
have that second career option close at hand.
Basker greeted me when I knocked, big guy didn't hate me, always a plus.
Ms. Lupe seemed ready to talk.
"What can you tell me about her? Were you two close?"
"Close? No. I don't think she gets that close -- got that close with
"Were you like the help?"
"No. I don't think so. Just -- you know, it's like the world she worked
in, it wasn't the world she was real happy in. So she'd hang around with
people like me."
"And you never saw her with Fontana?"
"Never -- or at least, I don't think so. He was there at some art
"He sculpt or something?"
"Not that I'm aware of."
"Do you sculpt?"
"Jewelry. Lots of jewelry. If you're seeing someone now I can show you
"Not in a relationship at the moment. But thanks."
"Don't mention it. I don't know how I can help you..."
"You already are. I'm trying to get a feel for Ms. Raphael's -- Eve's,
personal life. Her professional one's great, but that's not a world I'm
all that comfortable in either. We're thinking that as many as five
people have been killed by one person."
"Two prostitutes were murdered before Fontana. Same manner."
"Good question. But these days, every would-be psychopath knows you file
down the barrel to change the ballistics, lawsuit to keep that
information from spreading had the opposite effect. Or it was a common
gun. Same method though. Anyway, did Eve ever tell you about herself?
Walking Basker, hear the Eve story?"
"Some of it. Lost her husband a long time ago. They'd split up, but he
died, some factory, she got insurance. His family hated her for that, so
she moved to the city. I think she used to be a secretary or something,
a waitress maybe."
"And she moved up?"
"Right. We got to talking about stocks and things. She had them."
"OK. Yeah. Guess insurance payment 10-15 years ago would make you set if
you knew what you were doing."
"Right. Basker always ate well. That's for sure."
"And then, what about other guys, she ever talk about those? Can't
picture her taking Fontana or someone like him to an art opening."
"Which art opening? There's some you go to, people talk about you
because you're with a person of the opposite sex."
"Yeah. OK. So was she..."
"No. She always had a guy with her. Usually someone with a lot of money.
But no personality. She told me a story, about one of them, a man who
offered to marry her. They didn't have to sleep together or anything. At
least not for the first year. Until she got comfortable with it."
"Dude -- sorry, I'm mentally smacking someone."
"Well if it makes you feel better. She didn't go through with it. I
"Got to get dog food."
"But you don't have insurance from a deceased husband."
"You got it. If you want to be my husband, we can tell them you're dead,
we'll split it up."
"I'll think about it."
"OK. Well there's time."
"Right. And Mr. Fontana, where does he come in?"
"Well, at least you got the impression, back when he was alive, that he
was, you know, alive. Eve did tell me one time, this guy, said he was,
you know, 'the right guy.'"
"But she blew it. I think she started going out with someone else who'd
been stalking her."
"Well, that's different. Not the right guy part. Heard that one. Stalker
thing's a new twist. Actually the right guy element is a big part of my
plan to fail both locally and abroad."
"Well, I was 'the right guy' that got away. Happened more than once. At
first you take pride in it. You know, you'll make it big and they'll
have to eat it."
"OK. Yeah, I can see that."
"But then I found out even the part-time cashier at the lake trout place
has a right guy she missed."
"So then I hatched my plan. You see, they'd all wonder what life might
have been like, two divorces three kids forty pounds later, right? How
it might have all been different?"
"And then one day they'd meet me by chance, and I'd be, I don't know,
night manager at a Long John Silver's or something, having to talk down
the irate custom who feel they got gipped by management's
under-portioned fish fry."
"So then, like, the woman I was right guy for, she'd have to deal with
the fact that she didn't ever really know anybody who was going to make
it. And her life was inevitable, me or the husbands she did take. I call
that a win."
"Well, it's sort of, dark, you know."
"Yeah. But given a choice between getting ahead and getting even, you're
always better getting even. Getting ahead just poses new problems."
"Never thought of it that way."
"And I haven't even gotten into the meetings. The more you move up, the
more meetings you have. No meetings, man. Unless it's at the fish place,
'cause then I can scope out the new 14-year-old hostesses."
"Wow. Never heard that kind of plan from a grown man before."
"Secretly we all have it. I'm the only one who's living the dream.
Anybody can be a successful business type. How many of us can
underachieve in such a dynamic manner?"
"OK. So, are you working for that kind of place now?"
"Not yet. Have to put on at least 30 pounds first. And get ready to
listen to my 60-pounds-over boss telling me about his life. Every day.
Once I've got that training out of the way, I'll be ready."
"Yup. But back sort of on topic, you're thinking, she's going with all
these zeroes, they know what to pick on a wine list, but they're not
doing it for her."
"Right. That's about it."
"So she starts messing around with a youngun she meets by chance
"Fontana wasn't that young, you know. I heard 33."
"Wow. OK. But he's still about 10 less than her."
"Not a lot of future in that kind of thing."
"Probably not. But then, you do hear stories."
"Do they end with one party or another standing outside the window
holding a radio that's blaring "And I Will Always Love You?"
"No. Haven't heard that ending."
"Too bad. I know one that ended that way. Cops came along and picked her
"OK. You know lots of strange people."
"Of course. You think they let just anybody be assistant night manager
at a Long John Silver's? Got to know people."
"Right. Sure. OK. You're pretty strange, Mr. Gaston."
"I know. It's a gift. But did you see Ms. Raphael with any other faces?
Folks who kept coming by?"
"Well, the man who offered to marry her is still around. He sits at the
same bar she went to. I think he teaches somewhere. Major family money."
"Has to go somewhere. Really short guy too, right?"
"Yeah. I guess so. Why?"
"The ones with money who offer shit like that? They're never tall."
"And they'll never make it to assistant night manager."
"Now here's my problem, Mr. Gaston. That sounds to me like a plan,
thoroughly concocted. So even when you fail, you succeed. Doesn't that
mean that deep down, you want to achieve, even at such a diminished
"Ha ha ha. That's why I'm the reporter and you're the subject. After I
earn their trust, I'll skim from the register until I get canned or
jailed, whichever one attracts the most negative attention."
"So ya could never be thought of as the right guy."
"Exactly. Except if you're talking 14-year-old hostess."
"Another way to jail."
"You have an evil-sounding laugh."
"When you get to know me it's a lot of fun."
"I see. I'll think about it."
"So, for the record, Ms. Lupe, you cannot recall ever seeing Ms. Raphael
and Mr. Fontana together."
"Nope. Not together."
"Not at the bar. Not in the house?"
"Not at the bar, not in the house, not with the dog, not with a mouse."
"I wanted to say that."
"You're losing your touch."
"That's OK. It'll the first sign of decay, losing the touch. Pretty soon
I'll be ready to make fish jokes."
"Well, don't fall apart just yet, Mr. Gaston. Come here and I'll see if
I can't help you find your touch again."
"What about Basker?"
"Nothing Basker hasn't seen already. Dog's been around."
"OK, if you say so."
"Now don't you fail on me either."
Salvaging some of the afternoon, though unclear I'd call it wasted, I
got in contact with the guy Ms. Lupe had mentioned. His family had that
scary kind of Baltimore money, the sort that had lasted through the
Depression and grown. Talking to him, I got to thinking about slothful
minds, the way encountering them gives you the same recoil drive-thru
booth jockeys get on touching soft hands when moving change.
Call him Mr. $, 'cause lord knows there's somebody on his team who can
sue, had indeed been acquainted with Ms. Raphael, had known her quite
well, had once, his words "engaged in a proposition of marriage" to her.
The lady, even if she didn't have serious bucks, could have had them in
a heartbeat, leave it to academics and others with excess free time to
decide which kind of whoring is worse. Odds on she could have taken him
My one good idea was shot. No great leads on Fontana's other girlfriend,
and no idea whether the one doing the shooting was her, had killed her,
would hope to kill her soon, or else had had left town.
Five deaths, no motive, nobody gained anything. And on the radio, some
kind of hip band was coming to town, so the group was losing interest.
Feeling pretty much fucked, I put in an early call to Mary-Anne.
Luckily, the lady was understanding, though maybe that was because we
weren't in person, so I couldn't catch her smirking.
"Yeah, thought you'd run into something like that, Gaston. Her records
show her having pretty large balances, accounts running back several
years. Had to sweet-talk folks into giving me them, let me tell you."
"I knew you'd be capable. So what did she have? Stocks, bonds, T-bills?
Didn't lose it recently betting on Japan, right?"
"You know, she doesn't appear to have lost much. That's a given. Had
money everywhere, brokerage accounts where they didn't let me through,
bank accounts and money market where they did. There's also a lot of
property. City rentals mostly."
"Knew she wasn't perfect. Slumlord?"
"So cynical. Not really. Some waterfront lots, areas marked for
development, have her down as a member of a limited partnership or two.
Then there's rowhouses on the south side. Only slum property is a
warehouse over by the Hollins Market."
It couldn't be that easy. "Abandoned one across from the railroad museum
by any chance, Mary-Anne?"
"I think so. Why?"
"Make good practice space, if you want to go and try out new stuff,
don't you think? If a friend of yours was holding it for you."
"Or studio space..."
"For aspiring artists. One in particular that I'm looking for. Don't
know if she's an artist, though. It's the corner of Pratt St. and
"Yeah. What? Old drinking place for you?"
"Not inside, though down the street is a wonderful old man bar, nightly
crowd approximately six."
"OK. So what's so special about it?"
"From the roof, you've got a great view of downtown, no other
skyscrapers blocking the way."
"Hmm. Sure. That all?"
"No. If you wanted to, you could turn around, see the crowds wandering
around the market any time, day or night."
"Mary-Anne, I'm losing faith in you for a change... could also watch
your boyfriend's funeral from there, keep real close, but check out for
anybody who might make fun.... or worse."
"I'm tied up here, or I'd go with you."
"That's cool. I'm on my way."
The entrance to the warehouse was locked, chained, and looking a little
bit rusty, but seeing a few jutting bricks led up to a half-hanging fire
escape ladder, I thought I knew where Fontana had developed his climbing
skills. For a move up like that, all you've gotta remember is that it's
pretty stupid, then consider yourself lucky when you reach the top.
I made it all the way to the roof, missing a second-story ledge I only
found out about later, and caught a strange smell emanating from a
broken skylight. Thinking the worst, I thought about how it might look
better if I grabbed a couple of cops to wander in with, but as I did so
some water-soaked structural thing gave way, and I fell through into a
suprisingly soft combination of beer cans, pizza boxes and the odd
brochure from a major metropolitan art house.
Something on a makeshift futon was giving off the odor. I'd found
Cops took it from there. I wasn't much hurt, but they weren't much
happy. Only thing saved me was that she'd been dead at least a day and a
half. The floors were littered with the usual collection of paintings,
sculpture and nude seventies icon dolls for use in performance art.
Nothing of value. Nobody'd gained anything.
Mary-Anne was covering the story for tomorrow's press. I tallied up six
deaths, made a few phone calls, arranged a meeting.
Branson met me inside the Gypsy. Joan had ventured off to the
neighborhood's liquor store/bank for the sake of pretending there was
money in her accounts, so apart from a few folks at the side bar, we
were alone. He was smirking.
"You'd wanted to tell me before, didn't you? Kept the whole going just
to find the right person to do the story?"
"Yeah. About right."
"It threw me for a while, you know? Not used to folks getting killed for
anything besides love, money, or the last beer in the fridge. Pretty
freaky setup, man."
"Yeah. Gonna make a topic for all the psychologists. Whoo-boy. Got a
private room reserved at Supermax, you know all the cells there have
windows, TV just a pouring in. I won't get the chair."
"I'm sure not. What's your take on the 'cause? The thing that set you
"Oh man, anything. Jealousy. Envy. Rage just a pouring in. I had to have
his life, and since I couldn't, he couldn't neither."
"And the prostitutes?"
"Man. You want to get to the show, you gotta practice."
"Bateman was the class of his new band, man. Had to go to."
"And the ladies?"
"Fine tail Fontana was getting."
"Yeah, sounds good. Too bad I'm not buying it."
"What's that you say?"
"Well, I mean I'm sure you'd qualify as poster child for why suburbia
just don't cut it for teen-rearing. But it was Ms. Raphael. You didn't
plan to kill her, did you?"
"I'm right, ain't I? You'd kind of known her through him. Friends
almost. Go to her depressed. She's caring for you. But she doesn't dress
like that to care for you. It's only a functionality device, am I
"Hey man, I ain't gay. I mean, I am not gay. You gonna say I'm gay, I'll
get a gun."
"Nah, 'course you're not. Gifted public speaker, you'd a come up to me
first thing to go and shock me with your homosexuality. Apparently
coming out's a ceremony now, once you heard that you probably thought of
it, for the attention. You're just one of those funny guys who can do
anything to a joke except think up a good one. She tried again, all
dressed up, just to make you feel better, right?"
"Right -- no. Wasn't like that."
"She put the dog outside, puts on something special, all for you, but
you're afraid of failing, so you shoot her when she's on the way back to
catch you. Right?"
"And Fontana, he's your buddy, as long as he's fucked up. He's got
talent, people respect him. But that's OK, if he keeps pissing it away,
messing around with women not going to drive him to the top, you don't
mind it. 'Cause you're there to make fun of him. But he finally puts it
together, and you're even further behind."
"Yeah. It's you. How'd it happen, you're trashing his band and his
women, like you trashed all his bands and all his women, and what, he
looks at you, like he's seen through you, tells you other people say
it's a hot sound and a good life? That about right?"
"No man. It wasn't like that."
"Oh I'm sorry, there was art to you knocking off hookers. Yeah, that was
shear poetry, Mr. Branson."
"Fucking loser. You were gonna make it to prime time 'cause people were
gonna want to know the name of the killer, and how he worked. You can't
do comedy, pal, you'll never be able to tackle the serious stuff."
"Man, I'm warning you."
"It's Jed. And by the way, fucked up about it is that, while getting so
into your own asshole, you forgot two important things."
"Oh yeah, what's that? Just what the fuck is that?"
"Are they. They are that, if you'd ever left your little fat chick in a
coffee house who only talks about how everybody else just isn't up to
snuff act for a second, you'd've caught on that there's a Fontana in
every goddamn town: talented, not quite making it, maybe going to put it
all together some day, probably not. Nothing hot shit about this story
unless you need to fill up space on a Sunday."
"And what's the other thing? Huh, smart guy? What else I forgot?"
"Oh. Yeah. The other thing you forgot is that Fontana used to work on
the same crew as Porky. Off and on. Did it for a long time. Sam's gonna
miss his crew member. Good ones are hard to find. That's why he makes
sure anybody works for him, well, they're protected."
"Folks got Fontana's back."
"You're not a killer."
"Just of your dreams, Branson. Just your fucked up dreams. There's some
people in the next room have to talk to you. I'll see you."
And that was pretty much it. Cops got Branson's name from me, they spent
12-15 hours searching all over town, with TV cameras and Baltimore's one
chopper unit close behind, only to discover that the recently bald,
nearly-naked, very much unconscious guy they'd thrown into general
lockup upon suspicions of perversion was in fact the man they sought.
Gave Mary-Anne that part of the story, though not how he'd get there.
Branson didn't photograph as well as he thought he would. He apparently
wasn't gonna confess after all, but a few of the hookers remembered him,
and a gun in his apartment matched nicely to bullets taken.
Janice ended up getting forced out of her editor gig, right after she
saw to it I was extremely underpaid for my work. Girl landed on her
feet, latching on as deputy publisher with a Midwestern daily after an
old ass she used to shove her nose in signed her. Press release cited
"strong investigational management skills," whatever that means, as the
reason for hiring.
Wasn't all bad though. On Janice's last day, I scored 20 bucks from
Mary-Anne when it was proven Ms. J didn't even know the state her new
city was a part of.
Arlington, VA, 1999.