(A Detective Dexter Roland Adventure)
3: Real Comedy
I closed the door behind me and found myself in a sort of ante-chamber type office, with a safe and some other accounting odds and ends. There were a few shelves with a bunch of new vinyl, which I surmised were special orders and other stock that had just come in. There were two offices on either side of them. One had a small plaque that read “Miles Dangerfield,” and the other had a dirty ring around where a plaque used to be. A t hird, less impressive door was open, and featured a toilet.
Miles opened his office door, and the immediate smell of pot came to my nose. There was a bong on Miles’ desk, a turntable/radio combo, a million posters and records in every imaginable place, and a few chairs. Miles waved toward the bong and said, “Help yourself. There’s also a few bottles of something in Johnny’s room, if you’d prefer.”
“I’m fine.” I took out an index card and said, “Can I have a cigarette?”
Miles’ tone changed, and he sighed. “Yes, of course.” He turned on a vent and the sound of air rushing turned on. He moved to the turntable and put on a CAN LP. He then sat down, and in a somewhat fluid movement opened a drawer, pulled out some pot, filled the bowl of his bong and produced a lighter. He took a series of quick hits, then exhaled. “It’s these fucking street dates!” he finally said.
“They’re a real pain, absolutely.” I realized that Miles did not have a proper ashtray in his office, which seems strange for a stoner, and flicked the ashes into my left hand, then quickly began to jot things down as Miles spoke.
“It seems crazy that someone would do this, because there are quicker ways to ruin a man. But the distributors take this shit serious, man. If I get caught, that might be the end of my store!”
“I can see how you wouldn’t want that to happen,” I said, with only the faintest hint of patronizing him. Miles had clearly been smoking for most of the morning, and it might not be worth it to ask him any direct questions. But it might be worth it to just wait and see what comes of the conversation anyway. He’d already lied for me so I could try and get a date with his employee, so it stood to reason that Miles might be trying to help me out anyway, and just doesn’t know how to say anything directly.
“This bassline is amazing.” Miles took another bonghit. “Those sessions must have been incredible.”
“Who works for you these days?”
“Oh…” he squinted his eyes. “There’s Sam, Robert, Todd, Katherine -” he looked at me, as if we were old friends. “You know, my wife – Angie, Ronald and that other guy…”
“That’s helpful. And what happened, again?”
Miles let a huge smile cross his lips. “I found this record at a Goodwill. Fifty cents.”
I shook my head. “Really?” And I was only half acting, because that really was a good deal.
“Some dipshit clearly threw out all his roommate’s stuff after some fight or something, and then some retarded kid working at the Goodwill doesn’t know CAN from Katy Perry, so he puts it out. What are the chances?”
“Indeed.” I rubbed the collected ashes into my pants, and stubbed out the cigarette on a corner of his desk where there was clearly previous burn damage.
“That is the magic of record collecting,” Miles said, rocking back and forth in his chair in a slightly squeaky manner. “The records are sent out into the world, and the people who find them run into them by chance.” He gestured to his office door. “All that shit out there, some people think that’s collecting.” He stood up suddenly, and leaned over toward me. “But how many times have they found a CAN LP at a thrift store? Huh!?” He sat down again. “Almost as good as that Brubeck record I found.”
I thumbed my phone and nodded occasionally. “Yeah, ‘Take Five.’”
Miles squeaking continued. “If I could just figure this out…”
Miles tensed. “He’s here?”
“No, it’s okay. No, I’m just asking. You mentioned him earlier, and I found a story about this record store being founded by you and a John Benson. Is he Johnny?”
Miles eyed me suspiciously. “Who are you? What’s going on here?”
“It’s okay. I’m Dexter Roland. You called my agency, wanted me to look into something.”
“I thought your name was Little. Martin Little or something.”
“Marcus. And it’s not, I was just trying to get a little information from you clerk.”
“You were trying to get more than than, if I’m not mistaken,” he muttered as he took another hit.
“How did – “
“TV Monitors in Johnny’s room.” He smiled weakly and shrugged. “I was watching.”
“But you did call me t-”
“Yes, of course, yes. I did. It’s just… this week has sucked a lot, and I’m a little out of my gourd.”
“I understand,” I said, and started to feel a small contact high.
“It’s so much easier to put up a fog around everything than to really look at what’s going on. It’s like ‘blink-and-you’d-miss-it’ bullshit anyway, and who has time to look that closely at their own life, let alone what’s going on around you.” Miles sighed heavily. Then, in a very quiet voice, “It’s funny, you know. I only want to quit weed when I’m high, but…” and then, very slowly, “I always question my logic when I’m high.” He started laughing.
“No, I know what you mean. Can I use the John?”
Through his laughter, he pointed, and said, “Of course!”
I didn’t even look back to see what Miles was up to, but instead got up and walked back through what felt like a rabbit-warren-like nest of connected rooms, until I found the bathroom to take care of some business. A nip off my flask and a splash of water cleared things up pretty quickly, and I started to piece together what Miles might be talking about. In order for albums to be in the stores on the day they are released, these albums need to be in the stores before that day. (To give the store time to stock it and have it on the shelf.) Street dates are the dates an album can be on the shelf. Labels and distributors do keep an eye on stuff like this, and Joe Blow’s Garage Band isn’t going to be as big a deal as a new U2 album, but the point is still the same: this record shouldn’t be on the shelves until the street date, and if someone is breaking them, that can mean losing certain distribution deals.
This seemed a little bigger than that, but it was clear that there was some tension with his ex partner, and that’s a place to start, or namely, his old office was. I exited the bathroom, and looked around to make sure Sam or another clerk was around, then opened the office door with the missing nameplate. I didn’t expect anyone to be in there, so I opened the door as I would entering any room, and was shocked to hear, “The fuck, Rob?” I looked up to see two bodies in various states of undress and arousal, a woman’s head and torso in silouette visible from the waist up, and the back of a man, largely in shadow, working on her neck and move south. Before I could really get a look at anyone, a leg came up and kicked the door closed.
I hear a lock click, and I looked around again to see if anyone else witnessed the exchange. I leaned in very quietly, and listened at the door, and was getting a pretty good audio show for a moment. Then, a very low, difficult to identify voice whispered, “Let it go.”
A woman’s voice: “But – owe, why’d you…”
It seemed as if Miles was in no hurry to look for me, and as the show was starting to get good – if not information heavy – I decided to stick around and see what else might pop up from these two, but I overheard the words, “… get caught?” quite distinctly from the other door, back out toward store, followed by a male, “Shhhhh!” The show had really picked up, and while I did wish for popcorn, I instead moved between the two performances like turning the dial between radio shows. I could make out a male and female voice whispering in what would have been the jazz and classical section on the other side of the door, but they weren’t raising their voices again for whatever reason.
Set into the door was a window, likely to prevent accidents in situations where employees are moving back and forth between this room (to count tills and pick up the ordered LPs) and the floor of the store proper. However, over the years it has become covered in various stickers for labels and bands long-since broken up, and now really only acted as a means of getting a vague sense of what was on the other side, without offering much definition. I tried to angle my head in a way that allowed me to get a glimpse through the glass without giving away my own presence, and as I worked at this, the sounds on both sides began to increase, as Angie began to punctuate what I was seeing with her moans.
“Just make sure everything is still set,” she said, and the face rang a bell, for some reason. I took another nip on my flask, but that didn’t put it any more into focus.
“Yes,” he said, and turned to walk past my window, where I could make out a nametag with a visible A on one line, and T on the other.
I decided I didn’t want to press my luck any further, and I could see the woman was exiting the building with all speed, and it wasn’t worth tailing either of them. Plus, I still had to deal with Miles, and I was sort of curious to find out if Angie and her man had an exit strategy. It sounded as if they had – ahem – finished something, and it could be amusing to try and see them wiggle out of that. However, these thoughts were interrupted, when the door I was looking through opened. A tall, skinny kid walked in, shrouded in a hoodie and a shock of black hair that poked out to point out the direction he was headed in.
He seemed to realize I was in the room at about the same time I heard Johnny’s office door opened slightly, then get pulled closed with an audible squeal of, “SHIT!” The tall kid turned to look at that. I used the moment to my advantage to try and break the tension. “Door’s have the worst language these days.” The skinny kid turned back to me and looked confused. “Are you new?”
“Oh, no. Just a friend of Miles. I’m Marcus,” and I stuck out my hand for a shake.
“I see,” he said. He shook my hand in an extremely reserved gesture, and was quick to pull back his long arm. He took off his messenger bag, and hung it and his hoodie up on a coatrack, then moved over to the desk where he seemed quite content to continue whatever it was he was doing than to talk any more with me.
“I take it you’re one of the clerks?” I asked.
The skinny kid nodded.
“I guess you take over when Sam’s shift is over?” Another nod.
“You don’t like talking, do you?”
He turned suddenly, “You ask a lot of questions for someone I just met, and this room is supposed to be for employees only, so I’m sorry if I’m a little terse with you. I’m just preparing for my shift. Now are we done here? Or are you a manager or something, and this has become a performance review?”
I waved my hands toward him, wordlessly communicating the kind of respect he now deserved, and he went back to his work and I turned back to Miles’ office. As I closed the door I heard Johnny’s office open and close with another, “SHIT!”
Miles looked up from a cup of coffee, which appeared (if the arrangement on the desk was any indicator) to contain a shot of Old Crow in it, and Miles was looking at some documents beside it that were quickly covered by a file folder. “Hey, I was about to send out a search party! You okay?”
“Yeah. Just met one of your clerks. Tall, bad attitude.”
“Robert? Huh, that’s odd. He’s usually not like that.”
“Maybe he’s having a bad day, too?”
Miles shook his head and made a sort of guttural sound to summarize his frustration. “Man, Austin…” and trailed off, and immediately caught my attention. Before I could wonder how the fuck he knew that, he continued, “…we had so much fun in Austin this year, and I brought back all these great records, and I just thought this kind of stuff was behind me.” Then he shouted, “FUCK!”
“I completely get it man, I really, really do. But if you don’t talk to me, I can’t help you.” I decided that I was in deep enough to actually want the case, no matter if Miles could actually get around to hiring me, and that being a little forceful was the best way to go about this.
“Sorry, man. Look,” and he held up his coffee cup, “I’m trying to pull my head out of the fog enough to fill you in. I realized I wasn’t making any sense earlier, but I’m still a little mad and confused about all of this, and I’m trying to figure it out, too.”
“Seems as if your buddy Frankie seems to know what’s up. How about you fill me in?”
Either Miles didn’t notice or ignored the bait, and said, “I moved out here because I heard about Peace & Love, but those albums sparked in me something much bigger. I had this buddy, Johnny, and together we would go on these record runs, driving up and down the west coast, stopping everywhere and cleaning out little shops all over the place. We used to get high in the car and talk big about opening a shop someday, and between the two of us we assembled some pretty impressive collections.”
I lit another cigarette and started scribbling on an Index Card.
“In the late ‘70’s we kept hitting on this idea of opening up a store. We each kept running into the problem of paying the bills. As you can imagine, I’m a terrible employee. I can’t keep a job to save my life. But Johnny and I kept getting into these positions were we were already trying to make money selling our records, so why not open up a store? We each went through our collections, picking out the stuff we knew we could make serious cash on, and split the up-front expenses in half. We rented out one small part of this space, put in a few homemade shelves, and spent our days in the shop, and our nights in a shitty apartment we shared. Sometimes, if things were really bad, we’d just sleep in the shop.”
A lilt in Miles’ voice made me wonder how often he’s said this, and a lot of it seemed to conform with the brief sketch I could make out through the Internet.
“The problem was that we started to make money,” said Miles, suddenly, as if he’d only just figured it out himself. “Once we were paying our bills on-time, we started paying ourselves. That eventually led to us getting our own places, and expanding the store. Everything seemed to working out well.”
“Uh-huh,” I said, flicking ashes back in my palm. “So why’d he leave?”
Miles sat there and looked up briefly. I glanced around his office, to see if there was anything I missed, and my eyes lingered on the photos up on the wall around an old sign the store used to have up in the ‘90’s. “I don’t know if I can tell you,” he finally settled on.
“What does that mean?”
“Exactly that. He just left, one day. I got a letter about him wanting to sell his half of the store, and before long my wife and I were full owners.”
“You know her?”
“No, but the Statesman Paper ran a story about you two years ago.” I held up my phone. “It’s online.”
“Yeah, that’s her. I mean, the shop isn’t really her bag, you know, but when you’re married, your finances are, too. That’s just how it is.”
I nodded as if I had any idea how it was.
“It was about a year later that he opened up his place. Discworld.” Miles shuddered, revealing his real feelings about the name. He looked at me. “It looks like some sort of bullshit record store they’d use in Blade Runner or something crap like that. That’s not a record store! How many touring bands want to make appearances in that hovel?”
I muttered to myself. “I hate electronic music.” It was true, too. Very bad for spellcasting. There’s hardly anything to grab onto between the sounds.
Miles straightened himself up. “Someone has been breaking the Street Dates in my store, and Johnny has been taking extreme pleasure in pointing this out when it happens. He’s always doing stuff like this. He sent me a card when there was a small fire in our warehouse. Whenever I lose an employee he places an ad about it in the weekly. He just loves to revel in my pain, so he can right some wrong that he feels I caused.”
I nodded, but is appeared as if Miles was done talking anyway. “So you want me to look into Johnny?”
Miles looked confused. “No!” He lowered his voice considerably. “The clerks.”
“You think – ” but before I could pose the question, he cut me off.
“Dex, look. I’m at the end of my rope. I’m ready to fire everyone, but I know that there’s something going on here that could be handled a little more, shall we say, delicately than if I were to handle this myself. I need someone to come in here and clear up this mess, figure out what is going on, and get back to me with the fewest number of details as possible.”
I stubbed out another cigarette and leaned back. “That’s a pretty tall order.”
“I can pay you well.”
“That’s good, because my prices are not reasonable.”
“$200 a day.”
“Pffft. That starts to scratch the surface.”
“$200 in stock from the store every month.”
“AND, you keep up the pretense that my name is Marcus Little, I’m an old record shopping buddy who has come to visit, and that everything is business as usual. I’ll report back with anything I figure out, and you do the same.”
Miles nodded. “You don’t fuck around.”
“I try not to, except when it’s called for.”
“I read you. Just watch out; Sam will fuck you up if you try to screw with her.”
I nodded. “This ain’t my first rodeo.”
Miles pulled out an envelope with some cash sticking out of it and four joints inside. “Hopefully this will get you started.”
I gathered up my Index Cards and the envelope and hid it away inside one of my pockets. “Don’t worry, I’m good about asking for more money.”
“Good, I might forget. Hopefully Kat and I can take care of you well enough so we can see an end to this.”
“So,” I offered as a way to end the conversation before it took much longer, and stood up as I said, “How much do you want to know when I put all of this together? Do you want the name of the troublemaker, or do you need running commentary?”
Miles eyed his bong again, then looked back at me. “Just tell me who I can and can’t trust again.”
I nodded, and exited his door.