Words of Mine; An Introduction

I love the sound of words; of letters strung together. Words are like little puzzles and when put together correctly they can invoke pictures of images yet unseen. I see my thoughts like a perfect sequence of still photographs and I find those visions entertaining. The stories I gather from cobwebbed corners, or the vivid thoughts that float lazily through my mind, or the rapid fire ideas all force me to write them down before they evaporate; I can't help but think others might just find them as interesting as I do. Perhaps the little stories you read will make your day a little brighter.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Dark Tango Part II

The study had been less then forthcoming; no address book or schedule.  Gregorio Domingo had been an organized person, however, and we found his bank logs all in proper order, perfectly calculating deposits and withdrawals along with stubs from the paychecks he received from the government.  When we were done with our search, we were informed that Mrs. Domingo had taken a sleeping pill and would not be able to speak with us for a while.  Again we wondered if this was a stall tactic. 
Next stop, talk to his ex-boss.  After too many hours of hitting bureaucratic walls we were finally scheduled to meet with the man who’d over seen Mr. Domingo’s work, Mr. Alberto Salazar.  We were also cautioned to use kid gloves, which is a good joke with Franz and me at the helm.
 “Hello Inspector and Mr. Rossi is it?  What can I do for you?” 
The man who’d invited us into his sprawling office, bigger than my apartment and reeking of money and politics, was well put together with oily yet handsome smile, the only thing marring his perfect appearance was a limp.
“Thanks for seeing us Mr. Salazar.  I’m sure you’ve heard by now; we found Mr. Gregorio Domingo’s body today under suspicious circumstances.” Franz said.
Mr. Salazar was smart enough to not feign surprise.
“Yes, I did hear something about that.  Pity.  Brilliant mind.”  Salazar did not seem too upset.
“We understand he was employed by the government?” Franz asked.
“Yes, this is true, however Mr. Domingo was let go sometime ago.”
He got up and went to the bar cart.  He saw me watching him and looked down at his leg.
         “Polio.  One of the reasons I became so interested in science and medicine,” he said.  “Gentlemen?” he continued, holding up a decanter.
Franz shook his head no but I nodded yes.  He handed me a glass; it’s weight felt good in my hand and it was filled with a scotch that I rarely had the pleasure of drinking.
“Science and medicine?  Is that related to the department you run?” asked Franz.
He didn’t answer the question until he sat down again.
         “Yes, in relation to national security,” Salazar answered.
“What was the nature of Mr. Domingo’s work?” Franz asked.
“I’m sorry, I don’t’ think I can say.  Matter of national security, you understand.”
 “We’d like to contact some of his former co-workers,” said Franz.
“He didn’t have many, and you understand, you wouldn’t be able to ask them about the nature of their work,” said Salazar.
 “Is it true he worked in bioengineering and chemical warfare?”  Pressed Franz.
“I hate to repeat myself, gentlemen, but I can not say anything on this matter.”
Salazar said this and I wanted to knock him right in the kisser, smug son of a bitch.
“So you refuse to answer any of my questions?” asked Franz.
“I can only answer questions that have nothing to do with matters of state, security or otherwise confidential reports.”
I gulped my well-aged scotch and set the glass down harder than I should have.
“What you’re saying, in your bureaucratic, long winded, and overly important way is that you refuse to answer the Inspector’s questions.  So let me tell you in my quick, no nonsense way; if we find out you’ve been hiding anything, we’ll nail you.  Remember our faces and then remember I warned you.”
Franz didn’t bother to apologize for me.  If it’d been him blowing up in this jerk’s face he could of gotten into serious trouble.  But I’d take the brunt of the yelling and really, it wasn’t so bad.  You’re not doing things right if the police captain isn’t yelling at you once a week. 

Ten o’clock at night is too late to be out, waiting in a car.  Ten o’clock at night is too late after waking up too early after being lied to by too many people.  Normally Franz would dole this out to a uniform but with the high profile of the victim and the peculiarities of the case, he felt we should be in on the scene.  Franz wasn’t able to join me during the stake out, something to do with paperwork and it was just as well.  I wanted my old flask to keep me company and sometimes with Franz, well, three’s a crowd ain’t it.  What was I waiting for?  I wasn’t really sure but I’d know when I saw it, if I saw it.  If I could stay awake.  I had just finished lighting a cigarette when someone emerged from the Domingo’s gateway.  The headlights of a car driving by gave me just enough light to see that it was Gabriella.  She hurried down the street and as I craned my neck I could see her getting into a car.  I counted to ten and then started my engine and as she pulled away from the curb, so did I.  Tailing ain’t as easy at it looks; there’s a fine line between losing the tail and getting yourself known to the tail.  It’s a heck of a lot easier when you’re tailing a pedestrian, someone who isn’t in the game, so to speak.  I followed her closer then I normally would because I knew even if she wondered about being followed, she wouldn’t know how to spot me. 
Gabriella led me to a neighborhood about half an hour from her house called La Boca.  Means ‘The Mouth’ in Spanish and has recently become a hotbed of political unrest.  Socialists seemed to have housed themselves here, which isn’t surprising considering La Boca’s main inhabitants are immigrants. Fueled already with nationalism and anti Semitic sentiments, what was going on across the ocean had supporters here in Argentina, which made the immigrants who’d fled the turmoil, nervous.
I waited until Gabriella parked the car and drove right past her.  I parked my car half a block down and got out, shutting the door very carefully.  I doubled back to the building Gabriella was headed towards and saw that it was a small hotel.  Not as shady as some of ‘em, but not the Ritz either.  I waited across the street, making sure I was out of reach of the street lights’ glow.  There was the sound of restaurateurs a street away, a faint wisp of music - an opera maybe - coming from an open window.  I waited with my back against the wall and another cigarette in my mouth.  I didn’t have to wait long though.  Soon a figure approached the hotel and the way I knew it was Salazar was because of his limp.  As I was mulling over this tidbit of information, a scream broke over the soft noises of the neighborhood.  It came from the building I was watching, the building Gabriella had entered, the building Salazar had gone into.  Not waiting a second I ran across the street and through the doors of hotel.  “The man who just came in, what room is he in?” I asked the manager.  He was already out from behind his desk getting ready to run up the steps.
“Up this way, follow me,” he said as he took the steps two at a time.  It only took us minutes to reach the room and open the door.  As we burst in, a disheveled room greeted us and Gabriella’s limp body lay face down on the floor.
“Call the coppers and tell ‘em to send Inspector Franz.  Tell ‘em Marco Rossi told you so.”
The wide-eyed manager nodded like an idiot and left the room.
I kneeled down next to Gabriella.   There were red marks around her neck and I steeled myself for the worst.  I gently put two fingers against her throat.  The pulse was faint, but it was there. She wasn’t dead.  Gently I rolled her over so that she was face up and smacked her cheek.
“Come on you.  Wake up,” I muttered.
Her head lolled from one side to the other and then finally her eyes fluttered open.  Her eyes weren’t focused properly and she must’ve thought I was the person who’d marked her throat because with a cry she put her hands up in protection and frantically scooted away from me.
“Mrs. Domingo!  It’s me, Marco.  Mrs. Domingo, calm down you’re safe, it’s just me,” I said as I advanced towards her.  I grabbed her arms as she struggled against me, her strangled cries sounding pathetic.  Finally she looked at me and suddenly the fight wasn’t in her anymore and she went limp against me.
“There, there.  You’re safe Mrs. Domingo, you’re safe.”  I stroked her head; her soft and silky hair felt good under my rough hands and not for the first time I noticed what a fine specimen of a woman Gabriella was.
The hotel manager came in, relieved to see she was alive.  Making noises about putting the kettle on, he left again and I waited for Gabriella to feel better.
When she was clam enough she stood up.  I stood up with her and pulled out a cigarette.  I offered her one but she refused, oxygen was still a luxury in her throat.
I walked to the bathroom and used the glass by the sink.  Walking back into the room, I asked “You ready to talk?” 
She took a long gulp of water before she answered my question with one of her own.  “How did you know I was here?”
“I think I’m owed an explanation, having just saved your life.”
Gabriella looked down at the glass and shook her head.  It was a low blow, I’ll admit, but I never said I was a gentleman.
“Where’s Mr. Salazar?”
Gabriella looked up, surprised I knew of her secret but she gave me a grim smile.
“You are as good as they say,” she said.
“Not really.  I saw him come in, I heard you scream.  Doesn’t take a genius.”
I sat down and looked at her expectantly.
“Mr. Rossi, I suppose in your line of work you’ve seen this before?  But you have to understand, I never married Gregorio for love and he knew it.  Did he know about Alberto – Mr. Salazar - and me?  I think not.  But he knew the twenty years between us would always be a chasm.  He married me because of my social standing, because of my father.  I married him because he would keep me in the affluence I was used to.”
“You coulda fooled me there in the office.  Your act was first rate,” I said. 
“I might not have loved him in a wifely way, but I did love him.  I was worried - I am worried - that he was into something dangerous.”
“You still sneaking around with Salazar?”
“It ended long ago.”
“Why’d you see him tonight?”
“Because I was getting blackmailed.  You are happy, yes?  My bad deeds come around and to bite me.  You feel like a man, justifying your righteousness?”  She had every right to get angry with me and I knew it.
“It’s hard not to get fresh when you find someone almost dead, someone who’s lied to you once already.”  I had a right to be angry too and I was letting it get in the way.
“I did not think it important.”
“That’s what they all say.  But what I always say is that it’s up to me to decide.  You wanted to hire me to find out what your husband was doing.  Well, in the process I found out what you were doing.  Maybe it ain’t fair, but that’s the way it is.  Are you going to level with me now or are we still playing a game?”
“I’m going home, I’m tired.”

         Forty-five minutes later found Gabriella and me in a car in front of her house.  Franz had showed up right after she’d walked out on me in the hotel.  He stopped her and told her under no circumstances was she driving home and after a litany of profanity, she acquiesced.
         She had a cigarette in her hand and my flask in the other; she was a woman after my own heart.  We’d made up fifteen minutes into the ride and on the way home she told me about getting blackmailed.  It’d been a few months ago and like all blackmail cases, the initial request stated that after she paid a certain amount of money she’d never hear from the blackmailer again, only to hear from him again a month later.  Well, the last letter came this morning. 
         “So that’s the letter you received when Inspector Franz and I were speaking with you?”
         Gabriella nodded.  “They said if I involved the police, that it would be worse trouble for me and my husband.  I did not know what to do and to get that letter right after Gregorio died…”
         “Why meet up with Salazar then?”
         “I did not want anyone to know that I was taking out such a big sum.  I was afraid the police were watching the bank accounts.  I met with him to ask him for a loan.”          
         Not only did he not lend her the money, he also tried to kill her.  And I thought I had bad manners.
         She sat in my car, sipping off of my flask and smoking my cigarettes and all I could think about was kissing her.  After what she’d been through tonight, I was pretty sure all she wanted to do was fall asleep and forget the whole thing.  Besides, most broads didn’t want to kiss me, and Gabriella was a classy dame.  Classy women never wanted to kiss me.
         We walked into the house together; the maid opened the front door like she had a sixth sense.  I explained that Mrs. Domingo would need plenty of rest and that she and I, I meant the maid and me, would have to go through the house and make sure nothing was odd or out of place.  I can be a meticulous son of a bitch so it wasn’t for another hour before I was ready to leave.  I was satisfied Gabriella would be safe and I also knew there’d be a police man stationed at the house by now so after grabbing my coat and hat, I made my way to the door only to be stopped by the maid.
         “Mrs. Domingo asked you to see her before you leave.”
         “She’s not asleep yet?”
         “No sir, she is not.”
         I made my way up the mahogany stairs and looked down at the maid, who was watching me.  I pointed towards the left and she nodded, and then she headed towards the kitchen.  The rich carpet underneath felt good even through my cheap shoes.
         I knocked on the door first, waited for her to say ‘come in’ and went in.
         The room was elegant, not sparse but not overly stuffed.  Mrs. Domingo sat in her bed and I walked over.  There was a chair by the bed but I chose to stand.  I wanted my own bed and sitting posed the danger of falling asleep.
         “You wanted to see me Mrs. Domingo?”
She gave a quick small smile.
         “I suppose you’ve earned the right to call me Gabriella.”
         “Then call me Marco.  Now that we’re informal, why’d you want to see me?”
         “I’m sorry I lied to you this morning.  I didn’t know he was dead.”
         “All right.”
She waved away my abruptness.
         “I plan on paying you for your time on this.  We never spoke about that since Gregorio…” Her voice caught but she composed herself.
         “Well now, that is appreciated.”
         “I want his killer found.”
         “Of course.  I charge time and expenses.”
         “Understood.  Here.”  She took a letter off her nightstand and gave it to me.  I looked it over.  It was the latest in blackmail letters stating the time and place for her to drop off the money.  The same envelope the maid had given her when Franz and I were here, questioning her.
         “If we get you the money, how’d you feel about dropping it off?”
         “I’m to pay them?”  She was confused.
         “They’ll think they’re getting paid, but we’ll be there, ready to catch them.  Could you do that?  Pretend like we aren’t there, watching?”
         Gabriella nodded.  “I want all of this to end.”
         “Good.  I’ll call on you in the morning.”

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Dark Tango Part I

Inspired by Film Noir, set in Argentina during the 1930’s, and to include hallucinogenic wheat, as suggested by Chris Sulots.

It was seven fifty-six in the morning when I heard the outer office door open.  I heard it with my forehead on the cool desk surface, with the reminder of last night’s whiskey pounding my head.  Seven fifty-six is too damn early to conduct business, but in my line of work, if a client wants to meet you at eight, you show up at eight.
Through the frosted glass on my door I saw good ‘ol Polly, my secretary, stalling as long as polite but it would only be minutes before my door opened and I would have to greet the client.  Drinking the glass of water and taking the aspirin Polly coupled on my desk, I rubbed my eyes and hoped I didn’t look too bad.  A stick of Black Jack and thirty seconds later, I was taking in a tall and well-dressed dame who called herself Gabriella Domingo.
         “Marco Rossi?” she asked.
         “The same,” I answered in my perfect Spanish.
         “American?” she asked.
You can never fool Argentines, no matter how well your pronunciation is.
         “Have a seat, Mrs. Domingo.”  I motioned to the only other seat in the room and nodded for Polly to leave the two of us to talk.
Pulling out and opening a cigarette case that would cost me two months’ work, she extended it and I took one.  I lit hers first and then mine and we sat smoking until she was ready to talk.
         “My husband, Mr. Domingo, I have been worried he is into, what you Americans call, shady dealings, yes?” she said in English. 
I’ve a soft spot for a broad with an accent.  Ask me sometime and you’ll hear how I ended up in a cheap office in the middle of Buenos Aires, the little Europe of South America.  Gabriella was a looker, pouty mouth, doe eyes, and legs that went all the way up.  The dead animal that kept her warm must of set Mr. Domingo back a few.
         “How long have you suspected?  Or did the mink keep you from wondering until now?” 
         She gave me a look that would scare a parlor maid so I flashed her a smile and we kept smoking.
         “Until a year ago my husband worked for the government.  He was a bioengineer researcher before that and I believe he was head of a department that specialized in warfare.  We’d be invited to la Casa Rosa regularly for galas and such; we were on the elite circuit.  One day he came home severely agitated.  Ranting and raving about how the world was run by bad men with demons inside.  I’ve never seen him this way before!  It was like he could see the devil in his head; do you know what my meaning is?  Possessed.  After convincing him to bathe and nap, he came back downstairs as if nothing had happened.  When I tried to talk to him about this, he laughed at me, saying I was the crazy one.  That he came home after a luncheon of spirits and must have just been drunk.  But I know, Mr. Rossi, I know there was something wrong.”
         Her worry seemed genuine but a drunken husband wasn’t anything new, not to me anyways.
         “Was that the only time or did it happen again?” I asked her. 
She nodded once, before taking a long pull on her cigarette.
         “Yesterday.”  She paused and took another drag off her smoke before continuing. 
“After the first episode we were no longer invited to La Casa Rosa for anything and we did not go to the parties and events we used to.  He got cross with me when I was upset at our not being invited anywhere.  He told me we were lucky to have our lives at all.”
 “You understand?  My world went from an invigorating social life to that of a hermit’s wife.”  Gabriella practically spit out the last few words, so clear was her anger.
“He still worked for the government at this time?”  I asked.
“I believe not.  I asked him once.  Angrily he told me not to worry about how the money came in, that was his job.  Mine was to enjoy the fruits of his labors.  What enjoyment did I have Mr. Rossi?  When all my friends have treated me like a leper, when my days have been spent looking out of the windows, not going outside because I cannot take the silence and stares?  But yesterday, oh Mr. Rossi, yesterday was even worse than the time before!”
Gabriella’s eyes glittered with the threat of tears and it was almost too much for my aching head to bear.  It was too damn early for clients and much to early for crying dames.  Lucky for me, Gabriella knew how to compose herself and did not let the tears spill.  Made me feel like a heel, sitting across from the prettiest face I’d seen in a while, and wincing at the idea of comforting her. 
Gabriella nodded and took her time taking out another cigarette.  I took one of my own but lit hers first, again, and again we sat in smoking silence.  The telephone rang in the outer room and we sat listening to Polly prattle on with whomever was on the other line.  Polly hung up and walked to my door, the click of her heels loud next to our silence.
She didn’t bother to knock; she never did, but opened the door and poked her head through.
“Mr. Rossi, that was Inspector Franz on the horn.  He requests your presence immediately.”
I motioned with my hand at Gabriella, to indicate that I was in the middle of something, but Polly just shrugged.
“He didn’t make it sound like a invitation,” she said.
Polly shut the door behind her and I stood up.  I felt like weights were sewn into my clothes and all I wanted was my bed, but Inspector Franz was a good friend to have, and one didn’t keep good friends waiting.
“Mrs. Domingo, I just don’t see what I can do for you.  There’s no case for me here.”
Gabriella stood up, her doe eyes meeting mine. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Rossi.”
She gracefully walked out of my office, and my life.  Or so I thought.

The body was in a boat, one those little rowboat types, nothing fancy.  It was found floating by itself along the waterfront of Puerto Madero.
For as gruff as Inspector Franz can be, and next to him I’m a charmer if that gives you any idea, he was also smart.  He’d observed the questions I routinely asked the first few times we worked together and so had learned to anticipate them.  He stood, one hand in his pocket, one holding his cheap cigar.  He didn’t need notes and never carried a pen.
“Body was discovered by that young man over there,” he said and nodded to a man speaking with a uniform.
“He didn’t touch anything and called us right away.  We touched him to turn him face up.  And that’s when I called you.”
Inspector Franz didn’t call on me unless there were oddities.  It had to do with the fact that I had worked medical in the war.  Forget that I didn’t finish school.  He knew I kept up on the latest medical journals and in his mind it meant I knew something.  Never mind that I was a nothing more than a gumshoe in an adopted country.
The body.  It was swollen but not water logged.  It reminded me of a kid in the war.  The way his lips swelled once when he accidently ate peanuts.  Lucky for him, he wasn’t in the trenches and we could attend to him right away.  His lips though, I’d never seen that before.  There are lots of things I saw in the war that I hadn’t seen before, but that’s for a different time.
That’s what this face looked like, puffed up from allergies.  But also there were marks, like a big cat had taken his paw and scratched the man’s face from top to bottom.
I bent closer to get a good look.  He wasn’t wet.  The scratches weren’t deep.  His suit was expensive.  He wore a wedding ring that could have paid my rent many times over.  His fingernails had dirt and something else under them.  Without my microscope I couldn’t be sure but I had a hunch.  He scratched his own face.  What would make someone do that?  I didn’t know.  Gently turning his head I saw his hair matted with something.  I took out my handkerchief and patted the area.  It was blood; a hard blow to the head.  Was it enough to kill him?  I wasn’t sure.  
Finally I reached into his breast pocket and took out his wallet.  I handed it to Inspector Franz.  This wasn’t my case, not yet anyways, and I didn’t want to muscle in on the Inspector.
Franz opened it carefully.  No water had touched it and so the paper was intact.  That’s how we found out who the body was.
“Gregorio Domingo,” read Inspector Franz.
I stood up, the surprise written on my ugly mug.
“That name mean something to you?” he asked.
“Would you believe me if I said no?” I replied.
I scratched the back of my head and for the tenth time that morning, wished I wasn’t awake.
“How do you feel about having an unofficial partner on this one?” I asked.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
It was a phone call that shooed Gabriella out of my office but it was that same phone call that propelled me into her life.

The house was set back from the street; an iron gate with a buzzer and a high concrete wall hid the house from passersby.  The maid had buzzed us in when the Inspector explained who he was and we walked through the short courtyard.  Nicely kept, lots of plants, wide steps and a big wooden front door that opened right as we reached the top step.  The maid stood by to let us in after Inspector Franz flashed his credentials and we waited in the parlor until Gabriella came to join us.
She was surprised to see me.  She looked just as good as when I’d seen her earlier that same morning and her smile unsettled me the way a pretty smile always does.
“Mr. Rossi, an unexpected pleasure.  And Inspector?”  Gabriella said this in English as she extended her hand towards Franz.
 “May we sit?” said Franz, taking over and keeping the conversation in Spanish.
“Of course.  Where are my manners?  Would you like a drink?” Gabriella offered.
We shook our heads no and the seriousness of our visit must have sunk in because she stopped smiling.
“Mrs. Domingo, we’ve found your husband,” Franz said.
She looked at me puzzled.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize he was missing.  He is at work, no?”  Gabriella was trying not to sound worried.
“Mrs. Domingo,” I said, “Your husband was found dead this morning.”
She did not say anything but stood and from a drawer in a small table pulled out a pack of cigarettes.  They weren’t in a fancy case, just in their cellophane and paper wrapper.  She did not offer any to us and did not give us time to pull out our lighters.  After her first drag she leaned against the table and looked me dead in the eye.
“I told you there was something wrong.”
“Mrs. Domingo, this was the call that pulled me out of the office.  Even if I’d taken your job…it wouldn’t have changed the outcome.”
Gabriella shoved off the table and walked to the window.  I wasn’t sure if she was upset or confused.
“I’m sorry.  I’m mad at myself.  I knew I should have spoken with someone earlier.  Maybe if I had, he’d still be alive.”  She turned to us again and her smile was the ghost of happiness.
“What now?” she asked.
“We’d like to ask you a few questions.  Now would be best but if you’re too upset we could wait.”  Franz said this and I knew he wondered the same thing I was.  How did Mrs. Domingo really feel about her husband’s death?
Gabriella sat down again.
“I’ve already told him what you told me this morning, is there anything you want to add?”  I asked.
Just then the maid came in with an unmarked envelope.  The look on her face was one of fear and I wasn’t sure if it was because she was listening in or because she knew what was in the envelope.
Gabriella thanked her and took it with trepidation.  Seemed she knew what was in the envelope. 
Gabriella closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead.
“Gentlemen, I don’t feel so well.  May we continue later?”
Franz and I looked at each other.  Was she hiding something?  What was in the envelope?
“If you wouldn’t mind giving us any contact information on Mr. Domingo’s associates?  An address book or schedule?” Franz asked.
Gabriella nodded and stood up.  She began walking towards the door.
“I’ll show you to his study.  Feel free to take whatever you may need.  And then I hope you will excuse me.”