Cicero Dies, Part Two

Cat Dupree was sitting up front in the cab with me. Ride alongs were common with Sparky's drivers. Tipper Gomez often took Dolly along with him to keep him company on lonely nights. Shortly after I had put the finishing touches on my painting he honked the horn anxiously outside my apartment, signaling me it was time for my shift. His eyes were bloodshot from the sixteen hours he'd pulled, but when he took one look at Cat as she slid into the front seat next to me his peepers lit up like Christmas bulbs.

"Jesus H. Christ, Johnny." he stammered.

"Tipper Gomez, meet Cat Dupree," I said, introducing them.

Tipper smoothed back his moustache. "Please to meet you, ma'am," he said. I thought he was going to explode from the sexual tension as I drove him home.

Cat laughed as Tipper relinquished the wheel to me and exited the cab for drunken Dolly and home after we dropped him off. "Strange bird," she said. "I don't think I've seen a moustache like that since the last William Powell flick."

"Suave and debonair," I replied. "But he's a good man."

"I'm sure he is."

We rode in silence for a few minutes, and then out of the blue she said, "I wonder what Napoleon meant by 'close at hand and small?"

"I thought you didn't believe in ghosts."  She flushed with embarassment, then shook it off. It was obvious she had been thinking out loud.

"I don't" she said. "Forget it."

"Look," I said. "I have to turn fares tonight or I lose this job."

"Is it really that important? You could find a better paying gig, I'm sure."

"Not one that allows me the freedom to paint."

She shrugged. "So what you're telling me is that we have to shag drunks all night?"

"Pretty much."

She reached into her pocket and pulled out a wad of bills. "How much does it cost to rent you and your cab for the night?"

I stared at the money, wondering how I hadn't spotted it bulging out of her pocket in her skin-tight jeans. Then again, I hadn't been staring at her pockets.

"One hundred dollars," I answered. "Seventy-five for Sparky, twenty-five for me."

"Then here it is," she said, counting it out. I took the money.

"Where to?" I asked her.

"You know the town. I'll just tag along."

"We're not going anywhere right now," I said as the flashing lights of a police car appeared in my rear view. I pulled to the curb and watched in the mirror as Detective Leonard Featherstone slowly got out of his prowler and walked to my cab.

"Out," he ordered. I obeyed.

He peered inside the cab and eyed Cat Dupree. I had earlier asked her to ditch the gun and she had put it in the glove box, so it was out of the cop's view. I only hoped she would keep her mouth shut and not talk us into trouble.

"Who's she?" Featherstone asked.

"Fare," I responded. I wasn't lying. She had engaged my cab for the night.

"Not bad," he said. "A real looker." Cat obliged by keeping silent.

He turned his attention back to me.

"You don't listen very well, do you?" said Featherstone. "I thought I told you to get out of town."

"You didn't tell me anything, Lenny," I replied. "You merely suggested it."

Featherstone pursed his lips together, surpressing his anger.

"I grew up in a small town on the Mississippi River," he said. "We had rattlesnakes out there. Cottonmouths, too. You had to be careful where you walked. Every once in a while somebody would get bit, and once a kid died from multiple bites. Bad news."

I knew the cop was working toward something, but I didn't know what.

"But these are cold-blooded animals, right? And winter is brutal there on the river. They can't handle it out in the open, so you know what they do?"

"No," I answered. "What?"

"They find a place where they can shelter themselves from the cold. A crack, a hole somewhere. Under a rock, maybe. You can kick over a big rock and sometimes you'd see more than a hundred snakes curled up in the hole underneath; not only rattlers and cottonmouths but also these big ugly bastards called the black rat snake. Those aren't poisonous, but they're ugly as hell and just the sight of them can scare the shit out of you.

"Point is," he continued. "That they're all there, in the hole under that rock, curled up and waiting for warm weather so can they crawl back out and sink their fangs into someone."

He stared directly into my eyes with his cold, calculating cop's eyes.

"You've kicked over a rock, Johnny Jump. In that hole below it's filled with snakes; big, bad-ass, poisonous snakes, including the biggest and most lethal snake of them all; Lou Pine. And you're too stupid or too lazy or just too fucking arrogant to get the hell out of the way."

I said nothing in reply.

He rubbed his palms together, like Pilate absolving himself of Christ's crucifixion. "I warned you," he said. "Whatever happens to you now is on your head, not mine."

He turned his back on me and started walking back to his squad car, then stopped, paused in thought and wheeled to face me again.

"Listen," he said. "Because I'm only going to say this once. Your real enemies are those closest to you, especially in politics, and you've made a powerful political enemy. All that baloney going on in Washington is a fart in a windstorm. It's what happens in your own backyard that counts, understand?"

He paused for effect, then continued.

"You think this Watergate shit is anything?" he asked, raising his voice. "It's nothing, get me? Guys like Nixon and all those assholes, they play in a different league, pal. They don't give a rat's ass about guys like me, or guys like you. We're nothing to them; and you, you're a fucking flea on a fucking fly on a fucking rat turd. But guys like Lou Pine; he's right here, in your own back yard. He's within arm's reach and he's deadly and he'll protect his turf from anyone that threatens it. Get it?"

He shook his head and sighed. "Dumb ass," he added, then got into his squad and drove away.

I got back into the cab, angrily slamming the door.

"Keep your cool," said Cat.

"I'm not pissed off at him," I said. "I'm pissed off at me. "He's right. I should be the hell out of here."

"And leave Napoleon's killer on the loose?"

"That's the cops' job, not ours."

"Bullshit," she shot back angrily. "You know it's bullshit. They aren't going to lift a finger to find out who killed my brother; the politics won't let them. The only people who are going to bring justice to Napoleon is you and me and you goddamned well know it."

She had played her trump card well, right into my innate sense of right and wrong and justice denied.

She smiled. "You know I'm right."

"Agreed."

"Good," she said, holding out her hand for me to shake. I took it and shook it.

"You know what I think we should do?" I said.

"No. What?"

"I think we should find that rock and kick it over and poke a stick around to see who or what slithers out."

"Fuckin' A," she replied. "Now you're talking my language."

 

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