May 21st 2016
Dianne Ellroy III smacked the vaporizer out of his hand and lips. It bounced and shattered on the linoleum. The other customers looked up from their Korean barbecue dishes.
“Listen up, slim pants, give me the goods on that crack you’re smoking or I’m running you down to Johnny Law, toots sweets!”
Slim pants, whose name was Antonio, opened his mouth the respond and promptly shut it. He only asked her to join him for a tofu jjigae. She was cute, in a mysterious kind of way. A tan fedora and matching belted rain coat, no make up to speak of, dark eyes. Auburn hair poking out the bottom of her hat. A classy looking gal for all her gangly limbs. She didn’t give off an assault vibe.
“It’s tobacco. You broke it,” Antonio said.
“Don’t get tight with me, punk. You seen this man around?” She flashed him a picture of an elderly man, balding with coke bottle glasses and a tweed suit. “Some junkie in these parts took him for a shack job. Junkies all run in packs. Where’s he lay his head? Speak up or I get tough.”
Hands raised, Antonio backed away. He had a gram of cocaine and a joint in his pack of Parliaments and didn’t want any trouble. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just going to…” He realized that Dianne stood between him and his table. “Can I sit down?” he asked, a little frightened.
Dianne had no doubt slim pants, with his twenty third century haircut, smoked the crack, or the pot, or the reefer. Literature taught her that junkie types squealed when squeezed. She grabbed Antonio by the ear. Antonio couldn’t believe her nimble fingers; she reeked of scotch.
“Fucking ow!” Antonio said.
“That’s right, let’s see what the bulls have to say.” Dianne led him over to an off-duty security guard.
The uniformed woman usually worked afternoons, but she’d pulled a double to cover for an ill coworker. She didn’t have the energy to cook at home, had just received noodles she could barely afford. Her fork hovered inches from her mouth when Dianne shouted in her ear, “Officer! We’ve got ourselves a delinquent here! What do you say we tear into his kidneys, see what shakes loose?”
The off-duty security guard lifted an eyebrow. She looked at the pair. In between mumbling, “Ow,” Antonio looked at her with pleading eyes. She shook her head.
“Come on copper, had the crack pipe halfway polished when I pulled him up. Take him downtown. Snap him square.”
“Bitch, I work at the mall. Step off and take your boyfriend with you.”
Dianne saw another cop outside. “Never mind, officer, enjoy your lunch hour. Bartender, put her cocktails on my tab.”
The manager of the Korean BBQ stood behind what could be referred to as a bar, but more closely resembled a buffet. He looked up. “What?” The security guard lifted her ice water with lemon in salute. “White people.” The manager nodded, needing no further explanation on a Friday night.
Dianne released her prisoner and rushed outside to meet the new policeman. His uniform seemed antiquated even to her. She didn’t mention it; Dianne might not follow the law, but she respected it. “Officer, I’ve got a dope smoker in here. Let’s see those cuffs and we’ll book him.”
The policeman wasn’t. That is to say, he was a postman. That is also to say, he was dead. He looked over his shoulder at Dianne. He looked back the way he was going. He looked back at Dianne. He didn’t see anyone else to whom she might be referring.
“I’m sorry. Ma’am? Me?”
“That’s right, copper. Let’s bust this punk. I’m on a missing persons case and he’s got hot lead pasted all over his haircut.”
The postman looked in the window of the Korean BBQ. The young man she indicated whore his hair in a mullet, with the sides shaved.
“You want me to arrest him?”
“That’s your line, ain’t it? Justice.”
“Ma’am, I’m…” He couldn’t find the words. Through decades of post-corpsification, the postman only ever conversed with fellow refugees from hell. He pointed to the printing on his sack of letters. The postman was from another time, when people sent mail to each other. He didn’t realize that the world had moved on. He wouldn’t have cared much if he’d known. He was dead, and wanted no part of the living.
“Yes, officer? What’s with the letters?” Dianne tilted her head.
The manager of the Korean BBQ poked his head through the glass door. He held his palm on the door, ready to slam it shut. The woman spoke to thin air. He’d never seen so well dressed a crazy person.
“You gotta go. Leave.” He was very proud of his accent, much less pronounced than when he moved to the United States. “I call police.” His grammar wasn’t perfect, but then it was a stressful situation.
“That’s it then? Paid up with the mob, so their thugs can dope and dime in your joint?”
The postman fled. It wasn’t difficult. He walked through a brick wall into a broom closet.
“Please, no come back,” the manager said. He closed the door and locked it, apologized to the customers waiting to leave and asked for their patience until the lunatic departed. They were happy to accommodate. No one wanted responsibility for Dianne Ellroy III.
She straightened her fedora. Another dead end. At least she needn’t pay her tab. She wondered why she kept getting the boot before paying up. Must be respect for the detective’s trade. She walked up St. Paul’s Street and, for the eighth time that evening, retraced the Koenig case in her head. You couldn’t get the facts too straight. She learned back home in Michigan.
Dianne’s mother, a widow, didn’t trust the St. Clair Shores school system, but she was unwilling to compromise Dianne’s chances at a graduate degree. Thus she hired then librarian Edward Koenig to as liaison to the education board. Edward Koenig contributed only by recommending a few of his favorite books. These included The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, and The Friends of Eddie Coyle. He never guessed that she’d pursue them above every other subject.
When she reached pubescent years, Dianne lacked age appropriate males on whom to foist her hormones. Her mother, the widow, insisted on isolation from the rest of the town. She did not her want her daughter corrupted. Not like her father and husband and first two sons, may they rest in peace. Without boys her age, Dianne lavished affection on the now loftily employed Professor Edward Koenig.
(Professor was what Dianne called him. He taught a GED course. The irony will reveal itself.)
Edward Koenig grew little hair on the top of his head, a lot of hair in his large and lumpy nose, and he stuttered. Dianne, on the other hand, blossomed in delightful tom boy with a small upturned nose. Koenig knew the amorous displacement was both physically and logistically inappropriate. Dianne knew her affection was inappropriate, too. She enjoyed it nonetheless.
Despite her mother’s commendable records, not one undergraduate program accepted Dianne’s applications. It seemed that aside from teaching community college and acting as liaison for the Ellroy family, Edward Koenig recreationally enjoyed narcotics. This habit interfered with filing paperwork (and voila). Dianne was considered by the state an elementary school graduate at best. In fact, due to a clerical error, she legally died. No college enrolled corpses, at least none that the Ellroy family knew about.
Dianne wasn’t bothered by the bureaucratic failure. The career path she chose didn’t require higher education. She was, at heart a freelance and unlicensed private detective.
The widow Ellroy insisted on a graduation despite the utter lack of credentials. The invited the gas station clerk and, against her better notions, Edward Koenig. The ceremony was elaborate and of little substance. The guests stayed for the reception one hour out of pity for the girl that never grew up. Edward Koenig offered her a bottle of scotch in the kitchen.
“Sam Spade drank it. You’re in the club now.” He winked. His hair had fled entirely, his eyesight close on its tail. He stank. Dianne kissed him. Edward Koenig kissed three women in his life, on three separate occasions. We can spare him our judgment for enjoying the experience, seeing as Dianne Ellroy III was nineteen and beautiful in her clumsy fashion.
The joy ended abruptly when the widow Ellroy knocked Koenig out with an iron skillet. She called the police, but when circumstances became clear they chose to ignore the entire incident. They dared not confront the paperwork on a deceased woman.
Edward Koenig, his liaison responsibilities failed and concluded, hoped he’d never encounter any member of the Ellroy family again. He settled into his job as librarian to the rural town of St. Clair Shores. He upped his narcotic usage. He didn’t know that Dianne drank the entire bottle of scotch the night she graduated. She hadn’t been properly sober since. She’d yet to read of a detective who went a day without, as she’d tell you, “taking the edge off.”
She couldn’t find work in her field. The town of St. Clair Shores blanched at the thought of Dianne’s existence. A girl who’d grown up a mile away who they’d never seen, that just wasn’t done in a small town. Unable to express their feelings, they pretended she wasn’t there. It helped her purchase alcohol underage, but barred investigative opportunities.
Dianne assailed the noir literature with new fervor, spending most waking hours in the library leering at Edward Koenig. She stalked him, not that she’d recognize the behavior. She thought it was checking in, staying friendly. Koenig grew frantic, especially when she thrust pints of scotch into his hands, or left them at the checkout counter.
One day he disappeared.
His favorite purveyor of narcotics, at gunpoint, confessed to Dianne that Koenig had been anxious lately.
Koenig’s colleagues told her to stop asking questions about a man so much older than her. They looked down their noses. Now that her stalking included interrogations, they were much more comfortable judging her out loud. A nuisance is simpler to confront than a social services nightmare.
Finally, Dianne berated a policeman into a computer search. The cop found a ticket for Edward Koenig, running a red light outside of Chicago. That was all she needed. Dianne’s widow mother chided her daughter. She lectured on the dangers of the outside world. Dianne nodded politely, sipping scotch from a juice glass. Her mother begged her to stay, apply for Koenig’s job at the library. Instead, Dianne borrowed a substantial sum of money and the family mini-van. Unlike William DeBolt, she didn’t flinch from the truth with her family. She was on a case.
That was in February. She’d trailed Koenig here, to Baltimore, following her instincts as much as clues, a tugging in her stomach that led south and east. She found his car for sale outside of a gas station. The clerk found it abandoned. She haunted the streets the past two weeks. She found hints of Koenig, possibly in the company of another man. Dianne was pretty sure the other was a drug trafficker who’d kidnapped the balding professor for sexual pleasure. Why else would he have disappeared?
Dianne Ellroy III passed a burning Chevrolet outside a bar. College students watched it burn, snapping photographs on their cellular phones. It wasn’t a clue, but she got a fluttering in her diaphragm watching it burn.
She stumbled into the bar and past the cluttered table tennis and sat at a stool. They didn’t even use nets. How does one play table tennis without nets? And at a bar? Hammett would never have stood for such nonsense. She ordered a scotch from the small bartender, Mary. She was covered in tattoos but seemed like an upstanding citizen despite flaunting convention.
“Did you want Powers? MacAllen? Glenlivet?”
“Just a scotch honey, nothing special.” Dianne withheld from lighting a cigarette. She’d picked up the habit not long after the liquor. “Thanks.” She sipped the well drink. Smooth, like regret, she thought. She didn’t understand regret, not yet.
In between scribbling case notes, she eyed the bar patrons. A gang of eccentrically dressed women worked a con job on a young punk. A beautiful, silver haired man nursed a glass of red wine and ignored the girls who stared his way. A sunburned drunk leered at girls without leaving his chair. A pair of old men toasted. A middle aged but pretty woman with long, curly crimson hair sipped a bubbly drink with two limes. Instincts told Dianne that each of these could tell a story, one that mattered. She also guessed that none could help in her quest to find Edward Koenig.
Dianne did notice when the middle aged broad stood and walked to the door. The freckled woman bumped Dianne’s shoulder and nearly spilled her scotch. “Don’t you trouble yourself, sweet cheeks,” Dianne said. The freckled woman was already gone. Some lush, Dianne thought.
No leads revealed themselves. Dianne felt the rush of liquor dulling to a low hum. She’d learned that you had to work the scotch like oil in a machine. If you let it slow, it’d stick. Or that was how she thought oil worked, anyhow. Time to follow up on the case. She stood and hollered at the bartender, “Where could I find some coke?”
Mary, the bartender, enjoyed cocaine very much. After most shifts, in fact. Helped her sweep and mop and throw up stools. She did not want that fact bandied about. She set down the draft of Bud Light she was pouring and raced down the bar.
“Hey, watch it.”
“I’m looking for blow, the powder, the good shit.” Anywhere you found narcotics, Koenig might be close by.
“Yeah, I heard you. Ask one of your college buddies.”
“I don’t have buddies, dame. Just looking to party, hear?”
“Well then get the fuck out, try a junkyard.”
“Junkyard, eh? Thanks doll.” Dianne reached into her fain coat pocket for a couple bills, five for that tab and another five for the lead. Fer fingers caught on something with edges. “Here, get yourself something you usually wouldn’t.” She passed Mary the ten dollars and stared at the business card that hadn’t been there an hour ago.
JESUS H. CHRIST, PI
NO HIGHER TRUTHS
JUST THE FACTS
And then a local phone number. She felt ridges on her fingertips and flipped the card over. On the back, written in ball point pen, “Your friend’s in trouble, another on hunt, YOU NEED HELP. Eleanor Caldwell.” The writer underlined her signature.