Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mania - Nice to Naughty

And here's the last article for the year. I have to laugh at the comment about Spoiler Alerts. I'm pretty sure all of the movies I mention are at least ten years old.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mania - Naughty to Nice

My newest article on Mania is up just in time for Christmas. It was hard not using all comic book characters, since they flip face to heel and back again with an alarming frequency.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mania - Worst Franchise Reboots

The flip side of yesterday's article. This one was more difficult to write because most of these were one and done affairs, so it was harder to remember them.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mania - Best Franchise Reboots

Here's my list of the ten best franchise reboots for Mania. It was a more challenging article than I thought, since the line between "reboot" and "sequel" is very thin these days.

Also, there is already some totally awesome Nerdrage on display.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mania - Worst Native American Portrayals in Pop Culture

In honor of Thanksgiving, a look at some of the worst stereotypes of the non-Pilgrim side.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mania - Candy Themed Movies for Halloween

My first article for Mania. I had to watch Candyman and Chocolate for the first time for the article. Thanks Netflix Instant!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Mania - Saw 3D Review

My first official paid movie review. Finally, those days writing for The Cultural Blender pay off. I wonder who I need to talk to about seeing screeners around the Milwaukee area.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mania - Best Movie Monsters You've Never Heard Of

My latest article for Mania about good but obscure Movie Monsters. I really owe Paul for some of these. Also, I enjoyed my Crypt-Keeper inspired pun tagline. Maybe I can convince them to do an A.V. Club-style review of all the Tales of the Crypt seasons next year.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Samantha's Dream

You are sitting in your parent's den. It is their old house, the one you grew up in. Mom would hang up your art projects from first grade every year. Even during high school.

You are reading in your dad's chair. There was always something exciting and forbidden about it. You never played with his gun or any of his police equipment, but you treasured that recliner.

There is a noise from outside. A car horn. Sudden, swift honks. Honks seeking attention. You put the book down and look outside. The back porch is replaced with a parking lot - a lone car sits on the cracked asphalt. Though it is not a model you recognize, you know your family is inside. The faces are blurry but you can see the hands pounding on the glass. You can hear the muted screams.

They are surrounded by wolves. Four, maybe five. Those little details always shift when you remember the dream, but the wolves are there in a circle, carefully. You see them lick their lips. One jumps on the hood and howls.

Your hands yank at the patio door - the same door that you ran into on your fifth birthday. But it won't budge. Both hands pull as hard as they can but the door will not open. You start to pound on the glass as hard as you can. Your voice is ragged from yelling for your family. Yelling over the growls, the snarls. Your fists pound and pound and go numb and then hot and then wet.

The glass tumbles down and you are through before the echo of the shatter dies in your ears. The wolves turn to look at you as one. Your hands, broken, with shards stitched in your fingers, stretch out showing you mean no harm. The lead wolf, the alpha, comes down off the hood. The other wolves part as she stalks closer. Her mouth is closed but you see her eyes. So many things have looked into her eyes before dying.

She steps closer, surely within leaping distance of your throat. You glance back at your family's car. The glass is dark, like a limousine. You can;t see them anywhere but before you can move, you feel something strange.

Her tongue is licking your hands. The wolf laps up every drop and you can't move.

You wake up with that feeling on your hands. You know your hands are just sweating, but every night, the feeling is what wakes you up and it just won't go away.

You agreed to take a double at The Beaver Lodge in the hopes that tomorrow night, when you slept, you would be too tired to dream.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Moontown Palooka: Chapter Seven

There were no gargoyles perched on the ledges of the Grimaldi Hotel. There were, however, at least two in the lobby. The first was seated facing the revolving doors leading into the hotel. It was dressed as subtly as a quarter-ton walking winged statue could be. It wore a wide brimmed hat tipped over his throbbing green eyes and held a paper in front of its face as if it were reading it. The suit that covered its stony flesh was tailor-made, probably Italian. The pinstripes traced down its thick muscles, leading to the wicked claws that held the paper in front of its face. The gargoyle’s wings spilled over the back of the chair, as if someone had folded a leathery cape over the back. It tipped the paper down for a second as Longstreet passed, enough time for the detective to see it was smoking a Chesterfield.

The other gargoyle leaned leisurely on the wall next to the elevators, filing its claws with an industrial file. Sparks rained down onto the carpet with every stroke of the file. It was also well dressed in a suit that probably cost more money that Longstreet could ever hope to conjure. This one had polished black stones for teeth. Its wings were wrapped around itself like a cloak. It regarded Longstreet and Killberg with a savage grin as they approached. Killberg nodded and the gargoyle pushed the elevator call button.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Onyx,” Killberg said.

“Mr. Killberg,” Onyx said, “how’s tricks?”

“This weather is affecting my wings. The right one always gets sore when it first gets cold.”

Onyx grunted in agreement. “Who’s he?”

“A guest of our employer.”

The gargoyle grinned again and pointed its file at Longstreet.

“You gonna behave yourself?” it asked.

“I have no beef with the Guild,” said Longstreet, “long as it doesn’t have a beef with me.”

The elevator door opened and Killberg drifted through the doors. Longstreet followed and was shoved forward by Mr. Onyx.

“Gotta pat you down,” Onyx said. “Against the wall.”

Longstreet pressed his palms against the back wall of the elevator car and felt Onyx roughly begin his work.

“Couldn’t you have done this where there was more room?” he asked.

“The hotel didn’t like it when we did it in the lobby. Said it was too conspicuous.” Onyx took its time when said the last word, as if it had been carefully tutored to say it. He took Longstreet’s gun from its holster and then opened its palm in front of his face.

“And the glasses too,” Onyx said. Longstreet reluctantly folded them in Onyx’s hand.

“Can I get a receipt?” he asked.

Onyx grunted as a smile curled its lips. “You’ll get these back from Mr. Granite at the front door. If you behave yourself.” The doors opened again, and Longstreet could breathe easy again. He smoothed his suit out as the doors closed and the elevator moved upward.

The Grimaldi Hotel was closer to Moontown but still embedded in the regular city. Longstreet was surprised at such blatant displays of sorcery in the lobby but the Guild had that kind of power. While Moontown was where magic had come home to roost, the Guilds held territory throughout Chicago. Longstreet had the ride over from the station to think about who wanted to talk with him. The lobby had brought things into perspective. There were five families in the Guild. While they presented a united front, each family definitely wanted to be on top. So far, they had kept everything civil but Longstreet knew it was a matter of time. Just like booze, sorcery was a commodity that people would pay for. The Guild had a service to provide and even if respectable folks feared sorcery, they wouldn’t mind a few helpful spells to brighten up their day.

The elevator doors opened directly into the penthouse suite. Someone had moved a pool table in, and there were a trio of hustlers shooting pool. Girls were draped on the couches like boozed up tapestries. Papers, guns, and money were splayed across the mahogany bar. Above the bar, a martini shaker rattled itself to the beat of a jazz record spinning on a hidden turntable. The whole of the main room was dwarfed by an arch of glass stretching from either corner of the room. The window afforded a view of Chicago that made Longstreet question his long-standing avoidance of the Guild. A chair had been moved to the center of the arch facing out. Seated in the chair was the man that had summoned Longstreet from the depths of the precinct, getting a shave from an Italian man that looked all too familiar.

“Eddie Fiore,” breathed Longstreet. Killberg ushered him into the room. The place looked like a sultan’s den but smelled like a pool hall. The air was gauzy with smoke and booze. The air was thickened by the gazes leveled at the detective.

“Mr. Killberg,” said Fiore from the chair, “would you mind?”

Killberg swept toward the bar and plucked the shaker out of the air. He poured the contents into a martini glass and flew it over to Fiore. The Italian paused while Fiore took a sip.

“Harvey still knows how to make a good martini,” Fiore said with a slight turn of his head. Two of the pool players chucked. “You’ve done good, Killberg. Take the rest of the day off.”

The imp’s eyes lit up.

“Don’t do anything to get you in the papers,” said Fiore. The imp’s eyes dimmed slightly and it disappeared with a squeal and a flash of green light. Fiore sipped his drink again.

“If you want anything, Longstreet, the bar’s open.”

“How can I refuse such a generous host?” Longstreet said as he made his way past one of the decorative girls. She smiled and revealed a mouth full of wicked fangs. He nodded back and pulled out a bottle of Scotch.

“I thought you never drank while on a case,” remarked Fiore.

“I do when I’m meeting with a possible client,” replied Longstreet. He poured a decent amount for himself and then added another few fingers for Caligula.

“Already with the detecting?”

“A baker puts a cake in the window. Same principle.”

“The first one’s always free,” said Fiore in an admiring tone. “A principle I agree with.”

“Now that we’re Sunday school chums, what did you have in mind for me?”

“Also not one to mince words. Another wonderful trait. Giuseppe, avanti!”

Giuseppe stepped away from Fiore and began washing his tools. Fiore took the towel from around his neck and swabbed the bits of cream from his face. Giuseppe handed Fiore the same silver mirror and Fiore took a moment to admire his clean shave. He conversed with Giuseppe for a moment in Italian and they laughed. Fiore reached into his vest and pressed a few dollars into the barber’s hand. Giuseppe bowed and stuck the money in his case as Eddie turned to face Longstreet.

Eddie Fiore looked to have the parentage of a stout Italian mother and a great white shark. His pale skin contrasted with his dark eyebrows and dark eyes. He had a wide, flat nose that to Longstreet’s blurry eyes looked as if his nostrils led directly into his face. His teeth were crooked and jagged and fit together in a jigsaw smile. His dark hair was pulled back tightly, leaving a vast expanse of forehead landscaped by his bushy brows. After tossing the rest of the martini back, he joined Longstreet at the bar.

“Another,” he said and put the glass on a clean spot of the bar. Longstreet reached for the gin but Fiore rested his hand on Longstreet’s arm.

“Let Harvey do it,” the mobster said, “it’s why he’s bound there.”

The martini glass raised into midair. The ingredients soon followed.

“It’s not a bad effect,” Longstreet said. “A free sample of your wares.”

“I need you to find something for me,” Fiore said. Longstreet tipped back a bit of Scotch.

“I’m not stealing anything,” he said.

“Or rather, someone,” said Fiore. Longstreet drained his glass.

“And what did someone do to you,” Longstreet said. The martini floated into Fiore’s hand.

“Tore up one of my casinos,” Fiore said and took a sip. “Killed quite a few of my associates.”

“How many have you lost?”

“Six. One mago, four triggers, and one bean splitter.”

Longstreet nodded. He held up his glass and Fiore tipped his head forward. Longstreet poured more Scotch.

“Who was the sorcerer?”

“Johnny Marcosi. He was there mostly to make sure nobody tried to cheat with any talismans or spells. Wasn’t very good with finger music.”

“I’m surprised I didn’t hear about it in ink. ‘Sorcerer’s Den of Sin Singed’ would sell a lot of papers.”

“If the papers want me to fill their papers with gossip and rumors about who’s seen on Lugosi’s Row and what they are partaking in, they must sometimes let their diligence slip.”

“I’ll be frank with you. Staying on the opposite side of the room from you guys is an arrangement I prefer.”

“This is strictly business, Longstreet. I’ll pay you well and expect being treated like any other discreet client. Nothing over your head. To be honest, even the other families in the Guild don’t know about it.”

“It is a bit of an embarrassment.”

Fiore bristled at Longstreet’s observation. “There are those that find my excesses distasteful. Because I am the newest capo, making my bones through sorcery instead of more traditional methods, they look down upon me. They embrace sorcery as any other tool but they look down upon those that flaunt their mastery of that tool.”

“It doesn’t surprise me that some folks in the Guild aren’t excited about Capone’s Way. I’m sure that there are plenty of cold-blooded Catholic killers unwilling to trade their souls for powers beyond mortal ken.”

Fiore smiled grimly. “Then start there.”

“I haven’t accepted yet.”

“Fifty dollars a day. And I’ll keep our recruiters off your back. There are those on the opposite side of the coin that find your brand of sorcery unique and fascinating. You could make some serious money if you came over. That’s the only pitch I’ll make.”

“I’m aware of the rewards, Mr. Fiore, but the risks as well. If they get that anti-sorcery law on the books, I want to be able to slip back into a normal life.”

Fiore laughed. It was harsh, like unexpected cigar smoke. “First off, I think the Feds learned their lesson about banning something people want when they started drinking at our speakeasies. Second, I doubt you could return to a normal life. You speak to spirits as if they were cab drivers or short order cooks. It took me the better part of a week to bind Harvey here in my eternal service. To walk away from such power…”

Fiore sipped and Longstreet shook his head.

“It’s not at easy as it sounds. I ask the spirits favors and I have to pay them back. That’s why I usually keep it small potatoes. I hate owing anything to anybody.”

Longstreet leaned on the last few words to make sure they cut through any gin that might be swirling around Fiore’s brain. Fiore set down the glass, empty again.

“Fifty dollars a day. A bonus if you bring him in alive. I don’t expect you to clear your desk for me, but I would appreciate speed as well as discretion. I would be upset if another one of my businesses was destroyed. I understand not wanting to feel indebted to anyone and I feel the same way. Having said that, if you do this for me, I will feel obligated to you and my favor goes a long way not only with the Guild but with the city of Chicago. While I have enjoyed sharing a drink with you, matters are unfolding that I must take care of. Do you accept my offer or not?”

Longstreet drained his glass again.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Moontown Palooka: Chapter Six

The holding cells at this precinct were much nicer than the one down near Lugosi’s Row. It may have just been the fact that it wasn’t filled with vampire roundheels and drunk gargoyles. Each cell contained a small cot chained to the wall and each was only occupied by a single individual. There were six small cells in the basement of the building, and only two others had people in them. The city of Chicago was holding a young man with a busted lip and a snoring pile of clothes in addition to Longstreet. Only upon further review did he realize there was a man in there somewhere. He pressed his head to the bars.

“What are you in for?” he whispered across the hall to the cell with the busted lip kid. The kid grinned so wide his lip started bleeding again.

“I stole a Rolls,” the kid said, “and drove it into Lake Michigan. How bout you?”

“I convinced the glass spirits in a broken bottle to take revenge on the people that broke it. That’s aggravated sorcerous assault.”

The kid’s eyes bugged. “You with the Guild?”

“Kid, if I was part of the Guild, you think I’d be here? I’d be smoking cigars with the police chief and making time with the Rockettes.”

“I thought all sorcerers were part of the Guilds.”

“That’s what they want you to think. Puts the pressure on saps like me to join the club.”

“You been strongarmed?”

“Nah. I keep my head down. I don’t get in their way and they don’t get in mine. Moontown is small enough that we know each other but big enough that we’re not tripping over each other. There have been a couple times some of Fiore’s boys have gotten excited when I’m around but cooler heads prevailed. They’re businessmen, kid. Their business is magic.”

“Can you teach me anything?”

Longstreet chuckled. “We’re not supposed to show off our secrets. One of the ways I’ve kept clear of the Guilds is by not taking on an apprentice. After all, you start slinging mojo, folks are going to wonder who you picked it up from. You do it in front of one of Donatucci’s mago, for example, they’ll ask you who you know. You give them the wrong answer; they have some interesting ways of getting you to talk. Makes the hot lights seem like a vacation in Florida.”

“Like what?”

“I knew a guy they used to call Hazy Davy. He made the carnival circuit back before Black Magic Monday. Sword-swallowing, fire-breathing, all the bells and whistles. He started levitating folks in the audience. When he started using real mojo, he started to play bigger stages. Night before he opens a run at Carnegie Hall, he jumps off a building and kills himself. The real story is the visit by one of the Guilds’ triple-breasted suits. The gargoyle smacked Davy around, threw him over its shoulder, and took off into the night. Dropped him right in the middle of Sixth Avenue. Cops never figured out why Davy jumped fell from twenty five stories when the tallest building nearby was eighteen.”

The door to the holding cells opened, and a pair of footsteps began echoing towards them. Longstreet took a few steps back and leaned against the back of the cell. The guard entered into view, followed by a uniformed officer. As the guard moved to open the cell, the officer rested his hand on his gun. The cell door swung wide.
“Captain Nathanson wants to talk with you,” said the officer. He looked like he was going to draw on Longstreet regardless of whether he cooperated or not.

“Get moving,” the guard said. Longstreet followed the cop out of the holding cells. Light streamed through the windows of the station house. As they made their way through the station, Longstreet could feel eyes on him. He had been booked quietly enough but he could tell the tale had been told about him. Magic had been around for a few years but only the folks that lived near Moontown were used to it. Even some of the weathered veterans had poked their heads out of their offices to get a glimpse of the refugee. They made it to Nathanson’s door and the guard parted to return to the cells.

The cop knocked, and a grunt brought them in. As the door opened, they saw an older man reclined in his leather chair. He was getting a shave from a lanky Italian man. The barber wiped off the cream from Nathanson’s face and he leaned forward. He was wearing a three-piece suit with a watch fob. His body was piled into the chair. He took the silver mirror that was on his lap and took a moment to check out his shave from several different angles. He ran his fingers through his graying temples and smoothed the sandy wisps of hair on the top of his head. Satisfied with the barber’s job, he picked a coin out of his pocket and flipped it over his shoulder. As the barber cleaned up, Nathanson straightened the items on the desk, making sure Longstreet could see the full face of the “Capt. Hubert Nathanson” sign. He waited to talk until the Italian exited the room.

“Speak,” said Nathanson with a final jerk of his lapels.

“I’m sorry,” muttered Longstreet, “you didn’t scratch behind my ears first.”

Nathanson folded his hands on the upper curve of his belly. “You’re awfully contemptuous for a man that’s spent the last few hours in the lock-up.”

Longstreet stewed in silence for a few moments. “Perhaps you could be more specific,” he said, finally.

“What brings you out of Moontown?” asked Nathanson.

“Business,” replied Longstreet.

“A client?”


“The same business that brought you into O’Malley’s bar?”

“I don’t remember,” said Longstreet as he pulled off his glasses for a cleaning. “Must be the lump on my head from the friendly locals. Are they being held at a different station?”

Nathanson’s face shifted from a sneer to a full-out scowl. “They are recovering from the vicious cuts they received from your little magic trick.”

“I’ll admit, I was a little sore with them,” said Longstreet as he swabbed his lenses, “Where should I send the get well card?”

“Amusing as this little exchange is,” growled Nathanson, “I can see you’re not ready to cooperate. Maybe a few more hours downstairs will simmer you down.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Longstreet said at he put his glasses back on, “But why the word ‘private’ was painted before the word ‘detective’ on my door.”

“I’m warning you, dick,” Nathanson said as he leaned forward, “Play nice with me or I’ll lean on you so hard you’ll think I’m Tiny Tim.”

“I’d call the fire department if I thought there was any fire to back up all that smoke,” Longstreet said to the man next to him. Zielski looked like he was seasick. “Since you know about my sorcery, I can only assume the rest of the boys at the station house do too. I can also assume that since they know, no one wants anything to do with me. They’re all afraid I’ll hex them but good. Make their eyes bleed or thumbs fall off. Wiggle my pinky and cause a car accident. Even the big buffaloes you keep around don’t want to risk it. So if you’re going to hold me, charge me. And none of this sorcerous assault hooey.”

“Mr. Longstreet,” snapped Nathanson with a crooked finger, “I would advise you not to speak to a police captain like that.”

“Hubert,” said Longstreet, “this may work on the grifters that stumble into this part of town but you apparently have forgotten where I hang my hat. My office is above a dance studio run by a succubus. I’ve worked for vampires, demons, and even lawyers. I’ve seen what happens after you die and it generally involves menial labor. I want you to know that not only are you not intimidating me, you’re insulting me.”

Nathanson tensed and moved to stand but a rap on the door stopped him. A young officer with bushy red hair opened the door and popped in his head.

“Mr. Longstreet’s lawyer is here,” the officer said. Nathanson looked at Longstreet in puzzlement. Longstreet subtly shrugged one shoulder.

“Send him in,” Nathanson said with all the joy of someone that bet on the sure thing when the long shot won.

The door swung wide and something flittered into the office. It was about the size of a toddler, its small, leathery wings working hard to keep it aloft. It was the color of day-old coffee and wore a suit that was strikingly similar to Nathanson’s. It carried a small briefcase in one claw and was looking at a watch in the other. A small pair of spectacles was balanced at the edge of its beak. As it flew past Longstreet, it placed the watch back in its pocket and fixed its red eyes on the police captain. It set down on Nathanson’s desk and humbly held its case in front of it.

“Good afternoon, Captain,” it said in a squeaky voice. My name is Killberg. I am Mr. Longstreet’s legal counsel.” Killberg reached into its case and gave Nathanson its card.

“Since when do imps go to law school?” asked Nathanson, his brows furrowed in a mix of disgust and surprise.

“I am not a laywer,” said Killberg, “Yet. I am currently working as a clerk in the offices of Berman, Dudley, and Faust, and they sent me here to make sure our client was being treated fairly. If you have charged him, I have been authorized to pay whatever fines are necessary to remit Longstreet into our custody. If he is not charged, we would like to make sure he is not being held unjustly.”

Nathanson scoured Longstreet with a look. He handed the card back to Killberg and laced his fingers together.

“Please,” he said in almost a whisper, “get him out of here. Make sure your client is aware that should he run afoul of the police again, he should be more cooperative. I can’t be held responsible for the actions of frustrated police officers.”

Killberg nodded its head and flapped into the air. It drifted to the door as Longstreet stood. Longstreet opened the door for it, affording one last look at Nathanson. The captain curled his right hand into a fist and rested on his desk. The look on his face told Longstreet that Nathanson only wanted to uncurl it after he gave him a solid sock on the jaw. Longstreet winked at him and shut the door as he left.

By the time Longstreet made it through the front doors, the sun had already begun to play hide and seek with the buildings. Longstreet squinted for a moment but it didn’t take long to find his ride. There were half a dozen cars parked along the street but only one had a law imp hovering near the passenger door. The people on the street walked past with a mix of shocked curiosity and forced indifference. As the detective approached, Killberg opened the door.

“Who do I thank for the red carpet service?” Longstreet asked as he stepped inside.

Killberg cackled and took a seat next to him. “I trust that is a rhetorical question, Mr. Longstreet. If not, I’m afraid that we underestimated your skills as a detective.”

The law imp signaled the driver and the car pulled into traffic. Longstreet settled back in his chair. Killberg was playing tight, but it didn’t take much to connect the dots. Killberg had been sent by one of the Guilds. From the power that radiated from Killberg, Longstreet guessed it was one of the heads of the families. Like it or not, he was going to see his benefactor face to face. At least this way, he didn’t have to spring for cab fare.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Moontown Palooka: Chapter Five

After dinner, Longstreet headed out of Moontown. He could have taken the train but sometimes the drive let him sort things out. As he wound through the streets, his brain wound through the things he had discovered so far. He didn’t think Hughes was part of the break-in. More items would have been missing from Oscar’s apartment. She could have walked in and claimed them at any time. She seemed to be surprised and off-put by Longstreet’s appearance. He expected if she was behind it, she would have been a bit unbalanced. He had told the rust spirits to keep an eye on her just in case.

That left Ernest, a.k.a. Donny. Longstreet was careful in driving when he did. By the time he hit the construction site that Oscar and Donny were employed at, it would be quitting time. He would observe Donny in his natural habitat and feel him out. If Donny didn’t pan out, he’d hopefully get a better idea on who might be a new suspect. The nap had refreshed him, but sitting behind the wheel had put weights on his arms again. Maybe he’d get a chance to visit his apartment this week.

Magic wasn’t contained in Moontown. Other folks dabbled in it throughout the city but the farther from the neighborhood you got, the more resistant folks were to the notion that magic was here to stay. Most folks still associated crooks and con men with sorcery. Most of the folks that he rubbed elbows with were just regular joes that needed to keep the water bill paid. There were a few bad seeds here and there, but the only major difference between the two was the joes he knew that ordered Bloody Marys at the Sanguine Club weren’t referring to drinks.

Longstreet blamed the Guilds for the stains on the hands of sorcery. After Black Magic Monday, the mobs were the first organization to get into magic. Not everyone that joined up became il mago, as the Guilds called them, but most folks erred on the side of caution when dealing with them. Even if the guy leaning on you for protection didn’t have mojo, there was a good chance his brother or cousin might be able kill you with a few gestures and a few spell components three blocks away. The Italian influence on early sorcerers was still felt, even four years past. Folks that didn’t like Longstreet called him a ‘magoo’, which was born from the term Guild members used for the magic-using members of their families. It had spilled into common, less-polite usage first among squabbling Guild families and then the general public.

As he drove past the site, he heard the whistle blow. The sign near the cast iron skeleton proclaimed this building to be built by “100% living workers”. Longstreet chuckled and felt bad for the living workers that were only 95% living. Packs of them poured across the street and duck into the taverns that dotted Howley Street. Most of the same taverns had existed here even during the rise and fall of Prohibition. They had served the folks that built Chicago and were continuing to do so.

It took an hour of pub crawling before Longstreet set his eyes on Donny. As he entered O’Malley’s Bar, Longstreet sucked in a heady mixture of cigarettes and liquor. The bar was sunk below the street and everything inside seemed to be made from stout oak shipped directly from the motherland. A bar snaked down the left hand side and petered out just in time for the owners to wedge a pool table in back. A thicket of blue collars and gruff laughs grew around the table, masking the clack of the 8-ball. Longstreet eased himself onto a stool toward the middle of the bar. Close enough to observe but far enough to duck out if he got caught.

The barkeep ambled over to him. He was wearing thick glasses and his blond hair was pasted to his forehead with sweat.

“What’ll it be?” he asked.

“Beer,” said Longstreet, giving the bartender a nickel. As the bartender went to fill his order, Longstreet pulled a matchstick out of the box he kept in his coat pocket. The bartender returned with his beer and his change. Longstreet nodded and went to work on the pair of pennies the bartender had returned. He rolled the matchstick between his fingers, whispering a few curse words to anger the small wood spirit inside. The tip of the matchstick ignited on its own, and settled into a glowing orange. Longstreet carefully drew the same symbol on the tails side of both pennies. He blew on the matchstick once, and flipped one of the pennies. He drew a different symbol over the other side of the coin. He took the two coins and put them in his mouth, sucking on them like a penny candy. He wet his fingers and put out the match.

A few minutes passed before one of the workers peeled away from the pack to get a refill. Longstreet stared into his beer and carefully pulled out the penny he had scratched on both sides. He set it on the bar as the bartender pulled the glass away to fill it. The bartender returned shortly and set the drink down. The crowd of worked laughed and the one next to Longstreet turned to see the commotion. Longstreet quickly slid the marked penny along the bar and under the glass. The worker picked up the beer, unaware of the quick flash from under the mug. The sigil he had inscribed on the one side of the penny caused it to attach itself to the glass. As the worker returned to the game, Longstreet took the penny in his mouth and placed it in his ear. He could hear the boys’ conversation just as easily as if he were lying on top of the table. The sigil on the other side was working perfectly.

There were four of them gathered around the table at this point. The ringleader was a man that seemed to share his ancestry with the pool table. He was flanked by a wispy blonde with a severe lack of chin and a curly headed Irishman that had set his drink and his backside on the table. The one with the Listening Penny was the youngest, with a five o’clock shadow that looked like it was running late.

“I’m telling ya,” said Pool Table Shoulders, “everytime she bends down to pick up a paper that flies off the desk I almost rivet Charlie in the head.”

“From what I seen, it would be worth it,” the Irishman said.

“You ever seen her, Donny? The blonde on Forty?” Babyface asked.

Donny No-Chin nodded eagerly, “Oh yeah, oh yeah. She’s the bee’s knees.”

Longstreet frowned. He hadn’t heard that many hisses since the Fourth of July.

“Maybe we should send her some flowers,” suggested the Irishman.

“Maybe we should remodel her office,” suggested Pool Table.

“I got a better idea,” said Donny, his voice trailing into a hissing whisper. Longstreet leaned forward, trying to make it out. He glanced over. The beer glass had been set on the far side of the pool table and the boys had gathered closely. Longstreet strained for a few more seconds before he noticed the shotgun the bartender had leveled at him. Longstreet’s hands hovered over the bar.

“You want a better tip?” he asked.

“You got a piece? Put it on the bar,” the bartender snarled.

Longstreet made a point to show the bartender he was clasping two fingers around the butt of the gun. He eased it out slowly and set in on the bar. He could hear the footsteps coming from the pool table.

“Hey, Donny, frisk him,” the Irishman said from behind him.

“He puts his hands on me and he’ll turn into Minnie two seconds flat,” Longstreet said coolly.

“You got a lot of lead to think you can take four of us and O’Malley not drop you,” Pool Table said.

“If he fires that scattergun, you’re going to get mixed into my stew,” observed Longstreet. Pool Table, Babyface, and the Irishman had taken up positions behind him. Donny was trying to score a look like a kid at a Cubs game.

“We got a message for your Mexican friend,” Donny said. Longstreet lowered his head.

“He told you about me?”

“He said we wasn’t supposed to shove him around no more,” Donny said, his voice arcing higher in triumph. “So I guess we mess with you now.”

“I guess,” Longstreet said. He kicked his legs up against the bar, launching himself backward. He caught the Irishman completely by surprise and knocked him to the ground. Longstreet rolled to his right narrowly avoiding Babyface’s fist that came down in the Irishman’s gut instead. He closed on Donny, whose offense consisted of yelps and squawks. Pool Table wrapped his arm around Longstreet’s torso and shoved him hard into the bar. Before he could react, Donny brought a glass down on Longstreet’s head. The pieces scattered across the bar.

“Nice one, Donny,” Pool Table mused.

“I can’t believe the spic hired a detective to rough us up,” Donny said. His beaming smile melted quickly as the pieces of the glass began to hover off the bar.

“He hired me to keep an eye on you boys,” Longstreet said as he pulled himself off the bar. “Roughing you up is now on my dime.”

The shards whipped out in several directions, cutting Donny in the face and Pool Table across the arm. The biggest chunk hovered a few inches from the bartender’s eyes, keeping his shotgun lowered. The Irishman and Babyface staggered backwards as smaller pieces whirled around them like flies.

“Now that I have your attention,” said Longstreet as he dabbed the blood seeping from his lip, “tell me about why you broke into Oscar’s place, Donny.”

“I got a question, too,” said a voice from the doorway. Longstreet turned to see who it was. He cursed, raised his hands, and lowered the shards to the ground.

The patrolman in the doorway stepped into O’Malley’s Bar.

“What’s a goddamn magoo like you doing so far away from Moontown?” he asked.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Moontown Palooka: Chapter Four

Longstreet pulled in front of Oscar’s apartment somewhere just past lunch. The building was a rectangular two-story bunker surrounded by a wooded fence that reminded him of broken fingers. The only other car outside the building looked as if the building had been built around it like a curious rock formation. Even in the strange neighborhood of Moontown, Oscar lived in one of the poorer sections. The houses across the street looked just as battered and there were no children playing in the street. It wasn’t a neighborhood so much as a place where people came to pass out and forget about their meager lives.

Longstreet got out of his car and smoothed his tie. He circled around the building to get the lay of the land. The broken finger fence also surrounded two other prominent features of the tenement, one of which was probably not envisioned by the original owners. The first was a gigantic refuse pile on the eastern side. The first was an above ground swimming pool on the western side of the building. Neither looked particularly glamorous, but the pool had fallen father from the pinnacle of beauty. Ivy of a nauseated hue had crawled up the sides of the pool. The earth was trying to cover one of mankind’s awful mistakes. The remains of a diving board poked up from one side like the mast of a ghost ship.

Longstreet ducked between two of the planks of the fence and entered the grounds. He passed the ivy-covered pool and made his way to the front door. It was unusually warm here for an October day. Because of the weird energies channeled by the citizens of Moontown, the weather was constantly changing. One block would be a balmy August day; the next would be covered in a deluge of locusts. Longstreet thought about returning his coat to the car. He turned, stopped, and felt his hand crawling across his belly for his gun.

Something in the pool was moving.

Thick green waves had begun to loll across the surface of the water. The sides began to creak and moan. The ivy began to shift, as if the thick water spilling over the sides were pennies from Heaven. Longstreet began to perform a curious three-step. His curious nature was driving him forward but his cautious nature was pulling him backward. Both were rational enough to keep his hand on his gun.

A webbed hand burst through the surface, clutching the edge of the pool. Its partner followed, each the size and thickness of catcher’s mitts. A head came out a second afterward. It was shaped like a mound, with round eyes bulging out of the side of the face and a thick set of lips that weighed down the face. Its skin was the color of dead kelp. Somewhere, Longstreet’s mind made a connection. The ivy was actually seaweed. The creature hunched over the edge of the pool. Its mouth opened, and it spat a gout of water back into the pool with a retching noise.

“Can I help you?” it asked sweetly. Longstreet blinked, bravely. It blinked back.

“Could you direct me to the caretaker?”

“That’s me,” the thing said. It seemed to manage a smile.

“Mrs. Hughes?”


Longstreet’s hand crept out from under his coat. “My name’s Longstreet. I’m a private investigator.”

Mrs. Hughes face sunk again. “What do you want?”

“One of your tenants came to me and said his place had been broken into. I’d like to look around.”

“I detest snoops,” Mrs. Hughes said, lowering her head for a gulp of water.

“Ma’am”, said Longstreet, slowly walking toward the pool, “I’m just doing my job.”

“I know who hired you, and I don’t care for him. He was late with his rent last month.”

“Yes.” Longstreet pushed his glasses back up his nose.

“And he has money to hire a detective? You must not be a very good one.”

“I understand if you may not like me but I just want to look around. If you don’t want to talk to me, perhaps I can speak to Mr. Hughes?”

“There’s not one,” she said, and slits on either side of her neck flared. “Not anymore.”

“My apologies,” Longstreet said, looking at his feet.

“That bastard dragged me out of Lake Michigan,” Mrs. Hughes said, her big marble eyes fixing on Longstreet, “and told me we were going together forever. Then one day he says he’s going out for milk and never comes back. All I have to show for it is this pool and this tenement full of deadbeats, magoos, and hobos.”

“Sounds like a real raw deal, but,” Longstreet said and let his breath wrap into a sigh. “Ma’am, the sooner you let me into his apartment, the sooner I’ll be gone.”

Mrs. Hughes’ webbing tapped the edge of the pool.

“Perhaps you could use my services,” Longstreet offered.

“If I want to peep in someone’s windows I can do it myself,” Mrs. Hughes replied.

“Not as a detective, ma’am. I could help you back to the lake.”

Mrs. Hughes made a half-croaking, half-moaning sound. “I could a cab there if I wanted to go back. I can exist out of the water. It’s just more comfortable in here.”

“How about the garbage pile? I could get rid of it.”

Mrs. Hughes dipped her head back in the water. “I usually pay one of those Fiore magoos to get rid of it but they keep raising their prices. I don’t see a dump truck out there.”

“I’m also a sorcerer,” Longstreet said. “If you let me take a look around, I’ll get rid of your garbage pile and you can skip paying Eddie Fiore this month.”

Mrs. Hughes moaned and croaked again. This time, Longstreet realized that was her laugh. “Okay, sorcerer. Let me get my housecoat.”

As she sunk beneath the surface, Longstreet turned toward the building. He guessed Hughes was one of the Goodly Folke. The stories that they were all strangely beautiful were apparently a myth. They had appeared a few years ago, primarily in Irish immigrant neighborhoods. He had one client try to hire him to chase after a leprechaun’s pot of gold, but he refused. Usually, leprechauns led those kinds of suckers down a blind alley where his less diminutive cousins like firbolgs and ogres could shake down the poor sap. He had never heard of one holding down a regular job. He also had never heard of any of them being quite so uneasy on the eyes, either.

“Follow me,” said Mrs. Hughes as she waddled past him. The housecoat she wore was a thick terrycloth robe that seemed to be held together by Mrs. Hughes’
bitterness. As she walked, her arms were set slightly forward, with her palms against her body. It reminded Longstreet of a gunslinger from a western. They made their way inside the building. The entrance hallway was lit by a pair of lights on either end. As they walked past the apartments on the first floor muffled coughs and mumbles snuck through the cracks of the doors. Hughes led him up the stairs to Oscar’s apartment.

She slid the key into the lock and paused to look at him again.

“Don’t take anything,” she croaked. Longstreet nodded, and she opened the door.
Oscar’s apartment was fairly simple. The main room was carpeted. The border between the kitchen and living room was marked by the abrupt ending of the carpet. The appliances curled around the right had wall, ending in a half-open door that Longstreet assumed was the bathroom. He had kicked over a few letters that had been dropped through the slot on the door. He bent to pick them up and cycled through them. Bills for the most part. Nothing foreboding.

“Did he tell you how someone got in?” Longstreet asked. He walked into the main room. The pull-out bed was still down from the wall. It was the only major piece of furniture in any good condition. There was a small table with a pair of chairs set near to the kitchen. Both chairs had pieces held together by wire. Oscar apparently didn’t own a radio.

Longstreet heard Hughes heavy footsteps behind him. She made an unpleasant noise. He brushed past her on his way to the kitchen.

“Did you not hear my question or do you not care?”

The kitchen was a sickly white. The cabinets were more or less bare. An old iron stove crouched in the corner. There was a pot for coffee on top. Longstreet hunched down and opened the door on the side. He poked around for a bit and pulled out a small scrap of paper that had been burned. Longstreet put in his pocket and stood.

Oscar’s bedroom had a bed hidden between piles of laundry. The piles were composed of work clothes and overalls. The bed was a single person affair. It looked like it had been purchased from an orphanage or convent or something. The headboard was decorated with crosses and angels. It was badly scratched. Apparently, the kids liked to carve up the saints. He poked around underneath the bed and found an old box. There was a kid’s baseball glove on top. He dug past it and found a couple of shirts that looked like they had been chewed up.

“Thank you, Mrs. Hughes,” he said, turning. She was following him closely.

“You done?”

“After a question. Does he have any pets?”

“He better not.”

“I’m done here. For now.”

“And the deal?”

“Still on.”

Hughes stepped out of Longstreet’s path. They exited Oscar’s apartment and went downstairs. She led him to the other side of the building. The refuse pile almost stretched the length of the tenement and was almost as tall as Longstreet in places. Longstreet walked up and down the length.

“Well?” grunted Hughes.

Longstreet regarded her with a curious look.

“Snap your fingers,” she hissed. “Burn it up.”

Longstreet shook his head. “I can’t do that. There are no spirits here. At least, none I want to talk to.”

Hughes narrowed her eyes. “All sorcerers lie.”

“I can’t burn it up,” said Longstreet, “but I’ll get rid of it. I just need the right materials and the right spirits.”

“You a necromancer?” asked Hughes. The look in her eyes told him that he could make some pin money by summoning the dearly departed Mr. Hughes for her.

“If I had that kind of juice, I wouldn’t be a nickel and dime detective, would I? I can talk to the spirits in things and ask them to do things. I can do a lot with it, but you have to find the right spirits to talk to.”

Longstreet walked the length of the pile one last time and went around the building. Hughes stayed at her post until she heard the sound of splintering wood. She came around the corner to see Longstreet walking towards the street with planks he had broken from the fence. Longstreet came to the rusted out car he had parked next to when he had arrived. He would take one of the planks and trace it down the side of the car, like a dancer or painter. As he did this, he would snap each plan in half, and then each half piece in half as well. When he made it to the front, he would whisper and fit the pieces into the grill, sharp ends poking from the rusted metal. He did this about three or four more times. When he was finished, he took a moment and leaned into the one remaining rear view mirror that jutted from the side of the car. He paused, whispered something, and turned to face Hughes.

“All set,” he said. Hughes folded her arms.

“And what is supposed to happen now?”

“Tell it where to go,” Longstreet said and pointed at the rusted car.

“That’s going to get rid of my garbage?”

“If you ask it,” Longstreet replied. Hughes walked toward the strangely decorated car.

“Get rid of the garbage out back,” she said.

The car roared to life, suddenly, with a growl of engine and wail of something else. It hopped onto the grass and rolled past the pool, disappearing around the corner. Hughes looked back at Longstreet. He gestured and headed around the building. Hughes gasped as she came around the corner. The car rolled forward, tore off a huge chunk of garbage with its front grill, and reversed to chew it for a bit. It swallowed, rolled forward, and repeated the process.

“I told the rust spirits inside the car that they’d have a better meal with the garbage pile. Keep them fed and they’ll stay happy.”

Hughes nodded and turned away from Longstreet, eager to see the machine at work. Longstreet returned to his vehicle and drove away.

Longstreet could barely keep his eyes open as his Ford made its way through the streets. The combination of the late night and the summoning had taken their toll. He made his way back to the office.

“Louise,” he said as he took off his hat, “see what you can find on an Oswald Kier. And hold my calls. I’m going to take a nap.”

We don’t have a phone, boss.

“Then you shouldn’t be distracted too badly,” he said as he shut his office door behind him.

Longstreet slept until after sunset. His head was tilted back on his chair and his coat was draped over his chest like a blanket. A grating car horn woke him back up. His head rolled forward and he rubbed his face. He needed a drink and a chance to sleep in a real bed. He peeked out the window. The rusty car waited in the alleyway. When it saw him in the window, it winked its one working headlight at him. Longstreet was down in the alley two minutes later.

“Did you have trouble finding the place?” he asked, speaking into the rear view mirror. The headlight blinked twice.

“Your former owner, Mr. Kier, currently lives at 3318 Ghiberti Street. He’s on the second floor. Do you have anything for me?”

The car blinked once. The hood popped open with a creak. Longstreet slid his hand inside, fumbled for a moment, and pulled a crumpled piece of paper out triumphantly. The car shut its hood and backed out of the alley. Longstreet reached into his pocket and pulled out the bit of paper rescued from the fire. He held them up in the single light of the car’s lamp. They were the same type. Smiling, he flattened the larger piece out and saw the message on it.

“I know your secret, Oscar,” he read.