Monday, June 25, 2007

The Officer's Line of Work

“So?” asks Khost, excitedly. “Did you find it?”

Khost leads us down a hallway and pushes open an old wooden door with the letter K carved neatly in it.

“We found it,” says Brad, taking out the notebook, “but I’m not really sure what it means.”

“Wait,” I say, backing away from Brad, “Wait,’re working for him?”

“Actually...” says Khost.

“...he’s working for me,” Brad finishes. “My firm, Hart & Murk, hired Officer Khost as a consultant on this Bottlebrush case I’m working on. Khost is the best D.S.M. this side of the Glades.”

“D.S.M.?” I say.

“Detective of Spiritual Mysteries,” says Brad, as Khost clears a space on a long work table. “When it comes to solving mysteries of the soul -- even the most unsettling, the most unravelable, the most dangerous -- Khost here is the best there is.” Khost pulls out a chair for me, but I don’t move.

The room is shaped like a half-circle, and on the half-moon wall is a curved row of frames. I step closer to the frames and find that each holds an article from the Battersea Dirt. I brush dust off of the first frame and read its title: "The Fire in the Glades."

The scene is dark, hurricane-ish. For a second, I feel like I'm being drawn towards it, the swamp glowing, first by lanterns, then fire, tearing through the sawgrass, people screaming, howling, their hands and faces burning. Then something, some sort of person, starts towards me, through the flames.

"Francie," it says, and I know this voice. I heard it in the Great Library. It lifts its hand, or what is left of its hand. Though the skin is almost entirely gone, I can still see outline of a heart-shaped shell.

"Francie." Brad's voice pulls me back into the room and I shudder.

“Because of the sensitive nature of our case, I can’t tell you what brought us to hire Officer Khost -- I can only say that under his guidance, we’re finally on the right track.

“A track,” interjects Khost, “leading straight to Ponce de Leon’s second point.”

I’m trying to take this all in as Khost and Brad take their seats at the long table and look up at me, expectantly.

“Spiritual mysteries," I say. "So all this talk about needing an didn’t need me, you only needed the first point. So why not just ask for it? Why drag me into all of this...a neurotic -- slightly neurotic -- third assistant to a pop diva...I've got a soundtrack following me around, opossums talking to me...”

Khost lifts his head, suddenly interested.

"Opossums?" he says.

“Telling me to stay away from Brad, having him follow me to the Great Library, to spy on me, all the time, pretending he had no idea what I was looking for...”

“We needed you,” Brad says quietly.

I turn to leave, before the two men see that I’m fighting back tears.

“Francie,” says Khost.

“Maybe I should go back to stuffing envelopes.”

I can hear Rafael’s deep, guttural laughter, somewhere outside the door.

“I’m gonna be late to the Queen’s book signing,” I say.

“We needed you,” Brad repeats. I turn around, my arms tight across my chest. Khost gives him a strong look.

“Come on, you have to tell her.”

“Did you see where I left my reading glasses,” says Khost. “I think maybe Max has them. Max!” Khost calls, and Max swoops in, like a deflating balloon, from down the hallway.

“Tell me what?” I say.

“It’s you--” says Brad.

“--Bradford” Khost says, sharply.

“Francie,” says Brad, as Max swoops in behind him, as if in quiet concert, “it’s your soul that’s the problem.”

Sunday, June 10, 2007

An Unexpected Detour

"Here -- pull over here!" Brad grabs the steering wheel as we swerve past a row of red-tile roofed houses, barely missing an abuelita on her lawn chair, engrossed in the tabs and taking a slow sip of her iced tea.

“What are you doing?! You almost--”

“Detour,” says Brad.

A crumbling sign tells me we're on the border of the three towns: Little N, Little Relica, and Little Memoria. Brad gestures for me to pull into a small lot next to one of the houses, set apart from the rest by an overgrown hedge of yellow hibiscus.

The sign on the door says "Rafael's." I've read about this place. Cigar shop, former underground safe house for the out and out, now a sort of art bar for the haze-inclined.

Rafael seems to have weathered the change rather well; inside, the old-timers mix with a younger, more passionate crowd. But the place never really lost its reputation, and as we pass by, the regulars size us up, not entirely friendly.

A dark-haired woman in cut-offs hits the jukebox, and an old recording of Lydia Mendoza's "Mal Hombre" starts to play.

The back room is for the no-names, the ones who'd like to disappear in a haze of smoke and fine cognac, away from the trend-setters and new-names, eager to inscribe their lines in books and in the slow-moving clouds.

Brad leads us past Rafael, still a formidable figure in his open white shirt, showing a new patron the difference between a cigar and a cigar, past the no-names to a narrow wooden doorway.

Brad knocks three times, then pushes open the door. I follow, sucking in the smoke-free air.

“I don’t know how you do it,” says the voice. “You were right, about everything. It was the goldfish.”

“Madam,” says a deep, familiar voice. “If it’s any comfort, it’s always about the goldfish.”

Another door opens and out steps Officer Khost, leading a fragile, red-haired woman past us. He searches his pockets and produces a small, inlaid box.

“Remember,” says Khost, as if Brad and I aren’t even there. “This is not about wrong or right. This is about answers within answers.”

The red-haired woman shuffles out, nodding and sniffling.

Khost shuts the door and bolts it.

“Well,” he says, “it’s about time you two showed up.”

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Diverging Roads

"I can't believe you took the train here," I say, leading Brad through the dense foliage to my car.

"Library stop," says Brad, "right before Government Center. Everyone usually sleeps through it."

I check around the wheels to my car before I get in. Opossom is gone.

Max settles between us as Brad directs me back to the city. I'm actually glad to be with someone who knows where he's going.

Brad finds my stash of alligator bars in the glove compartment, tosses me one. "Crunchy outside, swampy inside," he says.

"Thanks," I say. "For getting us out of there." Max sniffs.

"No prob," Brad says, "I wasn't about to let a famous playwright burn to death in a library. That'd be...ironically messed up. Besides, I told your brother I'd look after you."

"Keith? When did you see him?"

"Ran into him at Cafe Mauricio's, a few weeks before you moved back. He was telling me all about his sister, the poor city bird, unable to survive on her own in the wilds of Miami."

"Please, my brother still has mom iron his boxers."

"So this was just...brotherly humor? Nothing more?"

"No...I...He thinks if you drive a Camry you're D-list. It's all about attitude. And not caring. I highly recommend the not caring. Plus, it's not like I'm in the tabs." Brad smiles uncomfortably. "Sorry, I didn't--"

"No, no, it's refreshing. Really. This not having to care." Brad runs his finger across the dust on his side window.

"So which way now?" I ask, quietly, as we approach a four-way stop.

"Left," says Brad, "or right. It doesn't matter."

We drive on in silence.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Battersea Dirt

This is a space for gossips, lurkers, detectives, and other travelers to post theories, tips, or parrot seed. But a reminder: don't trust everything you read in the tabs.