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.