City Streets

May 20, 2008
Brando’s neon sign flickered and fought against the moon’s light. I looked down at the battle in a rain puddle beneath my old shoes. My fedora tipped down, covering my face down to the cigarette sticking out of my mouth. Just flashes, nothing but bitter flashes.
Should I go back in? The question clawed at my brain like a terrified feline tearing at a curtain. I was just inside, only walking out to soak in the preceding event and steal some of the moon’s rays. I had finally caught the perp, smack dab, dead in his tracks. Marlon B. Castillo would be in the slammer before he ever knew what hit him. Finally, after all these years, my life’s work, coming to a close. The leg that was supporting the remainder of my dependent body, the very pillar of my being, began to twitch.
Smoke from my cigarette forced itself through the innocent air around me. He had left moments earlier, not noticing my presence. Not noticing me because he was blind, my witness, that is. He was blind as a bat in the daylight. Of course my eyewitness is blind. The irony surged through my veins like a get away car. Perhaps, he didn’t notice because he simply didn’t care. Of course that’s it, he wasn’t the type to care. They never are.
My right foot hit the puddle, which splashed up in retaliation. I pivoted on my dramatic leg, one hand out reached enough to swing Brando’s door wide open. There I was, staring at the pub, right in the face.
Smoke drifting out of the pub’s resident’s mouths hung in the air. Voices echoed in low whispers. I scowled at the people, soullessly. This particular ambiance just so happened to be a favorite of mine. I began my green mile walk towards the bar.
He dried a shot glass or two. Without even looking up, he asked me.
“What’s your poison?”
My first thought insisted he was referring to my line of work. A sick joke that would mean my end. My leg began its fit once again. One hand reached inside my long trench, gripping the .38 caliber with out a hint of struggle. Clasp. Then it hit me like a stab in the dark. Cool your jets, Vincent, you’re at a bar after all.
“Whiskey, on the rocks.” I said without taking my eyes off the character or my hand off the gun. Just in case he was up to something nasty. You can never trust in my line of work.
“Any preference on brand?” He looked up at me with one raised eyebrow arched over a hint of recognition.
“Surprise me.”
“You’re in luck. I got a bottle of Crowne Royal with your name on it.”
He flicked a glass from a waist high shelf and dipped it full in an ice bucket. He then grabbed the divine bottle, and poured the pure gold into the glass. The liquid fire splattered against the ice cubes like blood on pavement. Chuckle.
“Rough day, eh?”
He must’ve known something. He’s just a bartender. A bartender named…
I glanced at his nametag. Azrael. No first name. Interesting. Through squinted eyes, weathered from suspicion, I wondered.
“I wouldn’t say so.”
“Wife got ya down?”
By their early twenties most men have married and began families, families to love and to care for. But I had no time for this, you see? I was too busy, you see? But still, won’t it be a shock to see that a man well into his thirties has never married, and never will?
“Don’t have one.”
“Eh, those birds come and go.”
He said it all too nonchalant. I took a swig of the whiskey. The taste sent a shrill shudder down my very spine. I had met the love of my life, and boy was she beautiful. So elegant and pristine, the liquor almost distracted me from my line of work.
“Lady friend?”
Unspoken, I pulled the silver cigarette case from my coat pocket. I whipped one out and slid it through accusing lips. My lighter, engraved “D.V.S.”, for Detective Vincent Stox, relit pain of Chicago past, present, and future. I breathed in as deeply as my lungs allowed. The sweet smoke curled down my throat then forced itself up again, in a smooth, silky wisp. Wisp.
“You had one.”
“You sure are a nosey one, aren’t ya?” I growled, protecting the personals. Can’t release any information, not in my line of work.
“I do what I can.”
Confused, and a little taken aback, I eyed him. Another swig, more burning down my already eroded throat. Slam. That’s a lot of fire for one mans throat to handle. Smoke, whiskey, wrath… all in one blasted package.
Swig. Despite the burn, she was unremarkable. Sweet, but with a high kick punch right in the gut. A tinged twist bit through the after taste, like frost on a corpse. She was confusing, yet intriguing. I followed our kiss with an over whelming prodigious drag.
“You a detective, eh?”
“Yep.” Swig.
“Yeah, you come in here often. Never stay for more than a few minutes. You like it?”
“It’s a fine job.”
“I mean the whiskey.”
I needed to finish it. I needed to be on my way, get a move on, scram! In this line of work, you cant stay anywhere for too long. It’s a real dangerous line of work I’m in. Word gets out about your where abouts here in a joint like this one. A man is likely to get himself killed if he stops running, but I was under her golden spell. Nothing could separate me from the Crowne Royal. No sir.
“It’s dangerous out there, especially in your line of work. Chicago can be a nasty place.”
“I deal.”
“I can see that. What made you get into it?”
I grunted at the question. It was a question asked more often than I’d like.
“It’s a long story,” I said to shut him up. Drag. The man was nipping at my heels like a toy poodle. I’ve never been the toy dog type. Maybe that’s why I’m not married. Chuckle.
“I got time.”
“I don’t.” This reply had saved me, or so I thought.
“Yes you do. You just spent a good ten pacing out there in front, right after your little meeting. Where you gonna go?”
He had brought up a point. I was getting sloppy. Just because you got your evidence, doesn’t mean you’re safe. The end of my chase had pushed me over the edge. I considered leaving, but had already confessed to not having a family. I should be taking off but the Crowne Royal wasn’t gone. I couldn’t leave that dame sitting here alone. She just needed my loving touch. The muscles in my right leg began to duck and jump, a nervous wreck. Azrael wasn’t quitting anytime soon and there was no fire to escape to. I was a sitting duck. Shut him up with a story, just a little story. No harm in done, my dear boy ,no harm done.
“My father was murdered while he was a cop.”
“Sorry to hear that. Were you young?”
“Yeah, fifteen. He left my mother and younger brother to me.”
“I’m guessing they never caught the guy who did it. Leading you to become a detective, right?”
“Wrong, they caught him.”
“He got off easy? You out for revenge then, eh?”
Revenge had been taken. The man was put in the slammer and it was all over, long before I even became a cop. It was that man’s family that need to be taken care of now. Those Castillo’s were burning down this city. I had them now.
“Then why’d you choose this line of work?”
“I had to take care of my family. He left them to me. My mother came down with dementia early on and my brother was still too young. He left us with plenty of money but it was a burden for me.”
“So you want to protect the city like you did your family, eh?”
“Something like that I suppose. I’d say just following in his footsteps. Just a chip off the old brick.”
The deeper meaning of my chosen occupation had never crossed my mind. Like a trout in the stream, I just followed that road.
“If you ask me, that’s too easy a reason for a guy like you.”
Of course, I knew exactly what he meant. He was one of those guys who liked to scratch below the surface, far, far below the damn surface. I finished the Crowne Royal in one swift swig. The last drank like the first and every in between, pure and utter perfection. Sigh. Lovesick.
“Let me pour you another.”
“Please.” The words left my mouth before I could even utter a word of protest. One more drink can’t hurt, Vincent. With a body like that, you’d be crazy to deny her.
He picked up the bottle again. It should have been made out of pure gold. She’s liquid heaven, this liquor.
“That guy you were with before, he a suspect or something?”
I looked at him, completely in the dark.
“The blind gentleman. You were with him over by the booths right before you stepped outside to aimlessly pace.”
He handed me the refilled glass. She was ready for another goat me whether I was or not. This broad will be the death of me. Chuckle.
“Just a friend.”
This was where that conversation had to end. That was a long story, one that protested any explanation, even in the safe boarders of my own mind. Everything boiled down to one man I had been tracking for years now. His name is Marlon B. Castillo. If I brought him down, I could begin to crack the entire Castillo family, the largest mob family in Chicago. I had just gotten then information I needed to land every last one of them behind bars. I got it all from that certain blind gentleman, who was in fact a witness, the witness, and not a friend. I couldn’t discuss this in the public’s watchful eye. It was far too dangerous. I may have given away too much for just stepping back in this joint. Leaving would be sharp, but I was under the smooth trance of my lady friend. Swig.
“Doubt that, didn’t act to friendly towards him.”
Not back to this topic. The man simply would not quit. I glared at him.
“Well then, guess you just aren’t the friendly type.”
“No, I’m not.” You can’t be too friendly in my line of work. Snarl.
“Come on, this ones on the house.” He said as I finished my blissful glass, “ Least you could do is fill me in.”
“It’s been too long. I’ve been working on this case since the beginning. Sure, I’ve done little busts here and there. Nothing compares to this one though. Nothing.”
“You’ve been working hard.”
“That’s how the cards were dealt.”
“So my guess is you got the guy. Congratulations. What are you going to do now?”
“What do you mean? I’m a detective. I’ll get another case.”
“You said you’ve been working on this particular case since the beginning. It must’ve eaten you to the very core. What will you do when it’s all over?”
“Probably celebrate. Don’t you think I’ll be happy when it’s all over?” Swig.
“Personally, no. If my life’s goal was about to be reached, I’d be scared out of my mind.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I guess I don’t really.” Something about his face was just uncanny, a smirk perhaps. My leg shot into a civil war.
“This case has been the center of your life for years now. You don’t think you’ll just move on from that with out so much as a thought?”
“Well what are you proposing, that I let the man go free?” Chuckle.
“Of course not, I’m just saying. You don’t want to get knee high in the Mississippi and get your shoes wet, that’s all.”
The phrase meant nothing to me.
“I don’t recall asking for your advice on this in the first place.” I snapped like a mousetrap. Two glasses of whiskey, and I was on fire. “Besides, it’s too late now.”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“ It’s never too late.”
A clock behind Azrael’s head ticked. Ten o’clock. The time hit me like a bullet from a Tommy gun. I had been here for a full hour. I took my last gulp, my last moment with the queen. I was captured by her spell, so beautifully smooth. I got up and fumbled for my wallet. Tired hands laid out a bill. Azrael pushed the withered wreck away lightly. His touch was cold and hard. I felt light, as if the air had been knocked right out of me.
“Ah! Don’t worry about it. The Crowne Royal has a way of drawing people back here.”
I eyed him down suspiciously. The glint in the silver of his eye caught the dull pattern in mine. The goodness of man always confused me after witnessing so much of the bad. How two can live in one world will always leave me boggled, just cats and dogs. I pivoted towards the door, my worn heels crunching against the tile. I lit another cigarette and adjusted my hat on my way out of the pub.
A night breeze caught me off guard. I steadied myself against the wall. I took a long, deep drag and puffed out, polluting the clean around me. The dark crept about, encircling the pub. One hand on the wall, one right leg jerking skittishly, I looked to my left.
The street lamp stood still and lonesome under the moon’s cradle. Brando’s sign still flickered, the puddle under my shoe still reflecting every moment of its battle with the moon’s natural light.
Azrael’s words echoed in my head. They haunted me. There was nowhere to turn after Marlon was thrown into the slammer. My whole life was devoted to this case. Now, I had nothing. There was nothing to show for my efforts.
“Detective Stox!” a voice called.
I grabbed the gun in my coat before looking to my left.
There, standing a mere ten feet away was Marlon B. Castillo with a .38 caliber pointed at yours truly. My hand fell away from the trigger, away from my line of work.

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