The "Smile"

I took a cab home. My cab, to be precise. Tipper Gomez, who was my regular daytime relief, had covered what remained of my shift while I stewed in the interrogation room.

"Do I still have a job, Tipper?" I asked as he parked the cab curbside at my apartment.

Tipper Gomez may have been one of the last men in the country to sport a pencil-thin moustache. He smoothed it down with an equally pencil-thin finger. "I don't know how you do it, Johnny," he replied behind his heavy sunglasses. "Anybody else pulled the shit you do, he'd be out of work pronto, but Sparky says you should be ready to pull your shift tonight."

I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought for sure this latest transgression would mean the end of my tenure as graveyard shift driver for Sparky's Cab Company, but I once again had dodged the bullet.

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Lou Pine # 2

"How in the hell did you get in here?" Her hair was tied in a long ponytail that hung like a tongue of red flame down her back. She was wearing tight blue jeans, a form-fitting black t-shirt and a pair of steel-tipped K-Mart work boots; not exactly stealth footwear. Obviously the nickname "Cat" stood for more than just her looks. That she had been so successful in sneaking up behind me was troubling. I hoped it was because I had been so engrossed in my painting, and not because I had lost that certain edge I had developed in 'Nam and later cultivated as a civilian. I had a feeling I was going to need it now more than ever, if what I thought was going to go down was going to happen.

"Your back door was open. I walked in."

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Featherstone

Leonard Featherstone stubbed out his cigarette in the large glass ashtray on the restaurant table. We were sitting at a downtown ham and egger at my request. I had to find out whether or not what Cicero had said about Lou Pine and his hints about Tank were true or not. If it had any legs Leonard Featherstone would know.

"You don't smoke, do you Johnny?" he asked.

"Never did, Lenny. Grandma Jones would take a willow switch to my behind if she caught me with smokes."

"My grandmother was a drunk," he said, the last vestiges of smoke from his dead cigarette curling out of the ashtray. "And she raised my dad to be the same."

I wasn't here to hear his life story and he wasn't here to give it, either. The waitress, a twin to the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, and with very bad teeth smiled and asked if we were ready to order.

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Lou Pine

In spite of my wasting time at Cicero the FM jock's studio, I had managed to book some pretty good bucks for the night. I hung around the train station hoping to pick off a live one or two in town for late night festivities and picked up a car load of sailors from the big naval base just across the state line and hauled them around town to a few after hours places who weren't picky about checking IDs or keeping legal hours and by the time the sun broke over the lake signaling a new day they were drunk, happy and a few of them had even gotten laid. I hauled them back down to the base and got a forty dollar tip for the effort and as an extra added bonus no one had puked in my cab. By the time I got dropped off at home by the day time hack who replaced me I was beat, but not too beat to crack a cold beer and sit down in front of my magnum opus and take a good long look at what I had done. I drank the beer, stared at the painting, got up for a second beer, cracked that and stared again. There was something missing, and it was starting to gnaw at me but I couldn't put my finger on it and it was pissing me off so I went into the kitchen and fetched a third beer out of the 'fridge only this time also poured myself two fingers of Ten High whiskey in the old Smuckers jelly jar I used for a tumbler, tossed in a couple of ice cubes and sat in front of my painting again, sipping, chugging, staring and trying to figure what the hell was missing. There was a hole in it somewhere, but damned if I could see it. I felt like some long-ago archaeologist staring at a wall full of brightly painted hieroglyphics wondering what the hell it all meant, if it meant anything at all and I was the goddamned artist who painted the goddamned thing, for crying out loud.

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