Salt City by Robert C. Fleet Excerpt and INT Giveaway!
Posted by Krystal Larson at 4:00 AM Tuesday, June 12, 2012
I FELT MEAN. NOT ANIMAL MEAN, LIKE YOUR
two-ton football truck drivers, just petty mean. Like that teacher
I had in 5th grade, the one who couldn’t let a kid go home
without at least ten math problems to do and twenty words
to spell. Idiot work. I felt that kind of mean that likes to see
others waste their time like I am. So I didn’t answer right away
when the blueshirt asked me what I was doing parked there in
the dead of night.
“All right, let’s see the license,” he said after his fifteen
second politeness limit had expired.
This one I knew. Too quick to the pocket and he’d have
me out the door and into a body-lock breathing tears: self-defense,
“It could have been a gun.” Too slow and it was failure
to obey an officer’s commands. Either way, I’d asked for it.
Now, feeling mean, I’d have to eat it. Or lose the twenty-five
waiting for me downtown. I like to eat. I went for the money.
“Officer, I’m reaching for my license now,” I said, doing
just that. “I’m waiting here for my brother-in-law who said to
pick him up around one o’clock from his girl’s house, only he
doesn’t want me to ring and so I’m. . .” I rattled on, getting
worse and worse.
The problem with lying is that you’ve got to stick to the
story. With a good lie, it’s no problem. With my lie I’d either
better have a brother-in-law show up soon or get a move on
and say good-bye to the twenty-five. I felt mean.
Of course, sometimes things work out a third way.
It didn’t matter who I said was coming once she flew out the
window. And once she struck the ground, I couldn’t even
remember what I’d said.
But sometimes at night I still remember how long it
took Anne Malloy to fall those six stories.
THREE HOURS HOURS BEFORE, SUNDAY NIGHT,
Anne Malloy had looked pretty good in the photograph the boss
had shown me: tall, thirty and Irish. Perfect little housewife
with a touch of life. That was all I knew. The boss - small, forty
and bored - told me to sit outside 210 Salinas Street, where
I would probably find her bronze Maverick conveniently and
foolishly parked, wait there till she came out of the apartment
building, take a picture if I could, and tail her discreetly until
my shift was up, even if it just meant staring at her house while
she slept through the rest of the night. A divorce case. I didn’t
care. I’m paid twenty-five dollars for eight hours, 10 p.m. to 6
a.m., to follow someone and report what they do.
That’s all I have to do.
That’s all I have to know.
That’s all that’s necessary to wrap up a marriage and
deliver it to the divorce courts in New York State this Year of
Our Lord, Anno Domini, AD 1977.
I had checked the odometer mileage as I got in my car,
I remembered that: at seven cents a mile and thirty cents per
half hour of idling time the expenses add up, and I wanted Bill
Baeren, alias the boss, to foot the bill whenever and wherever
I could put it to him. Then I started out, wondering, but not
What half-hearted speculation I did engage in, in fact,
concerned the locale: Salinas Street. Salinas could be “fun,”
depending on where in the City of Syracuse I found Number
210. North was white, south was black and 210 was smack in
the middle of everyman’s land. Which was why the police were
quick to question. It was a good area for a little inter-racial
Only it wasn’t a robbery we were watching.
No, we were watching a window six floors up smash open
from the impact of a human body. Then that body, a woman’s
body, dropped down.
I suppose that we expected, the cop and I, to see the
body arc through the darkness - hover, perhaps, suspended for
a moment in space and time like a swan dive - then gracefully
knife through the air into a pool of night. It didn’t. When Anne
Malloy left solid ground behind her she dropped straight and
sprawling. There was no grace to her fall, only time. The slow
time that allowed her to let out one sound. And then there was
a guard-rail, followed by the ground.
I felt a terrible emotion swell up behind my eyes. I couldn’t
move. Couldn’t. And for a moment the fear that Anne Malloy
must have felt took hold of me as I thought of how I would
never move. Deep inside something pushed - willed - movement,
and I let out a cry to join Anne Malloy’s. I pushed against
the car door with all my weight, knocking the policeman back
as I forced myself out of the car. I ran towards the body. When
I got to her, I turned to the nearest bush and vomited. Five
seconds later, the policeman joined me at the bush.
Police detective Richard Anderson was young, black
and lieutenant. He had the kind of eyes I thought they only
gave to doctors, the kind that see the symptoms but miss the
human bearing them. Only the sweat stains on his clothes betrayed
his nerves. It was a cold night.
By the time Anderson arrived I was sitting in my car,
idling the engine to keep warm. But the cold was inside me
and it didn’t want to stop. I thought I’d like to go home and
sleep, the wave of adrenaline-drop drowsiness overcoming me
unaffected by a pounding heartbeat and racing, frightened
emotions. If I could sleep . . .
Instead, I sat in my car waiting for the questions to start.
I watched the police story outside 210 Salinas Street with my
windows rolled up, making a silent movie out of the scene:
mouths opened and closed, puffs of frosty air hovered in
front of every face, policemen and medical examiners walked
quickly and businesslike in and out of the apartment building.
A black man in maintenance man overalls emerged from the
basement of the apartment building, led by two blueshirts.
He wore bedroom slippers, and after a moment of observing his
possessive gestures and the blueshirts’ administrative responses,
I realized that he must be the building superintendent.
The silent movie began its second reel: Anderson stood
in the middle of it all, practically straddling the body, checking
off with a BIC pen something on the clipboard he carried like
an extension of his left arm, then using the pen like a baton to
waive directions with his right.
My bush became popular with many of the new arrivals.
I thought of turning up the volume, thought better
of it, and settled back into a comfortable chill, watching it all
through half-closed eyes.
I woke up when he opened the door.
Robert C. Fleet Online:
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