7: Rolling Stoned. (Part 1)
I was fairly familiar with the police shakedown routine, and I usually learned more during those interactions than I would under normal circumstances. In any given situation the cop is the most dangerous guy in the room, so it is often better to wrestle with a known quantity than anything else on-hand. If Fish wanted to play alpha-male around me, then so be it. I’ve spent my whole life being a small cod in a large ocean, just on the outside enough to get squeezed out by the “real deal,” and I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that they have no clue what’s going on.
I wonder how often Fish is referred to is Vigoda?
I climbed into my Truck and threw my bag up on the bench. I rolled a cigarette and turned on the radio, and KLOW continued with douchey indie-rockers trying to out-hip each other on the rarity of the import, the obscurity of group, or the cocaine glitter sprinkled all over the tunes. Music like this was hard to milk for any substantive magic, save for a glamour or two, but the problem with vapid bullshit is that buried deep within all of it are the occasional gems that can really bring in the big spells. For someone in my position, listening to the radio actually works great for a case like this. I’m sure I’ll need to add a third – and possibly fourth – identity before the night was over.
I lit the cigarette but watched as various people dispersed from the area. Diamond was long gone, but I suspected I would see him again soon enough. Dickheads like him seem to pop up at the worst times. Fish & Fred motored off, and I watched as I puzzled over everything that had been going on. I scribbled a few notes on an index card and shoved it in the pile with the rest. I rummaged around in my bag and pulled out the Crispin Glover CD Robert gave me, turned on the cab light in the truck, and looked at it. The writing on it was the same as the writing on the station CDs in their library – N & P, for No Play, a way of cataloging albums and songs to communicate to the DJs what you can and can’t play on the air. This disc belonged in the station, and Robert led me straight here.
Straight to what seemed like a terrible scene in a detective movie. Another performance?
I opened the CD again and pulled out the liner notes. Aside from what I assume was there when the album was released, there was a small “review” taped in there by one of the DJs, largely panning the review, but cited “Auto-Manipulator” and a pre-cursor to the rap-rock phenomena of the mid-’90’s. Something caught my eye on the disc, and as I removed it from the CD from the case, a piece of paper fell out, with a phone number on it. But the thing that had caught my eye was the two letters hand-printed on the paper inside the center-hole that held the CD in place. I shook the case, and to my surprise, it sounded as if there was something inside the case. I pried it apart, and found that inside there was another photograph of the person from the group Dig Your Grave, who I now knew was their drummer Angie thanks to their Wikipedia entry, who was also, conveniently, an employee of You Spin Me Right Round Records who likes to have sex in Johnny’s old office.
I switched off the light and continued to puff on my cigarette, letting all of this sink into place. I looked at the phone number again, entered it into my phone as “Crispin Glover,” then put everything back in my bag. Angie. This wasn’t a coincidence, and Robert directing me here was certainly his intention. Either there’s more to Angie than I already suspected, or Robert is working double-time to make it look that way, which was just as interesting. Angie was probably only really guilty of being promiscuous and attractive, which can been an albatross for a lot women. Jealousy – perhaps she’s not into Robert? – could be motivating him framing her. Musicians and record stores go together like peanut butter & rice crackers, and her being connected to both is not a conspiracy, but the sign of a good music scene.
It was clear that whoever answered the phone when I called Mr. Glover back was going to be more relevant than I thought. “The Big Problem ≠ The Solution. The Solution = Let It Be.” I also realized that, no matter who answers that phone, that it wouldn’t even be close to the one behind all of this.
Accounting for traffic and other hold-ups, I would still be incredibly early (by my own standards) for my rendezvous with Sam, and considering how hot-to-trot she had been all day, it was likely I could be very late and she would still be there. As I pieced a lot of this together, Darren exited the radio station, and began walking toward a car. I dialed Mr. Glover’s number using the *67 prefix, but Darren made no sign of receiving a call, or what playing it incredibly cool if he was. I hung up and started the truck. It had been a while since I’d tailed anyone, and it seemed like it was a good idea to see if I could do it in a beast of a vehicle like this.
Darren walked to a very-used Honda CRX that he crawled into and drove off in. With traffic as bad as it was, it was easy enough to wedge yourself behind one other car and follow someone without them getting too suspicious. Of course it looks like the car behind you is following you very slowly. Everyone is angry and tense because the traffic sucks. Everything looks like you’re not moving at all. So long as I let a new car occasionally get in between us as his immediate traffic bubble changed, I was able to keep up with him easily, and a simple glamour did what our own human frailties weren’t already covering.
Darren eventually drove up to an apartment complex, hopped out and ran up to his pad. I sat in the truck and decided to wait for a bit. If things got really dull, I could splitsville, but it was early enough that I just hung back a block and enjoyed the show.
It wasn’t long before something happened. From a side street someone walked directly toward Darren’s car. It seemed to be the silhouette of a man, but from this distance it could be anyone. I got out of the truck and moved a little closer to improve my view. The silhouette closed the gap between it and Darren’s car, and opened the door as if Darren hadn’t locked the doors. (And with a CRX, why would you?) I got a bit closer, but could only make out the silhouette setting something on the steering wheel. The silhouette close the door quickly, and I returned to my truck. It seemed as if I had stumbled upon a much more interesting quarry.
I targeted the silhouette and began to creep in the truck, doing my best to hide the sound of the engine and the lights while still allowing myself to drive. The silhouette moved quickly, and I followed him to a bicycle, which he hopped on, and rode very quickly in the same direction. I continued following him, but after a few twists and turns, he rolled into a lot for a real estate agency that was a mile or so away, where the silhouette opened a side door, hoisted up the bike, and walked in.
I sat for a moment. There was only so far I could keep going with tailing people this evening, and I’d already interrupted one steakout to land myself in a second. I pulled out an index card, took some notes about where I was, then rolled back to Darren’s apartment.
Miraculously, time was on my side, because I returned as he was just opening the door of, and getting back into, his car. I could just make out that he took something off the steering wheel, and then sat in his car for bit longer than you would normally to start the car up.
I already had a lot to work with now, but as I was already pointed in the right direction, and it seemed as if Darren was too, I decided to keep following him on lark. As I didn’t have a place of my own in this town, it didn’t make any sense to try and make myself up for getting together with Sam. There was no way I was going to look anywhere as good as she would when I got there, and it didn’t sound like she wanted to spend much time in the light, anyway, if I was reading all her signals correctly. I knew that it was going to be really easy for her to play me like a chump, and I was partially attempting to brace myself against that very real possibility. If I was honest with myself, women like here were always going to be a problem for me. Certain curves, certain sounds, certain conversations, and I’ll build you the tower of babel if you’d just touch it for me once in awhile.
KLOW sang at me, “I got an uncontrollable urge I wanna tell you all about. An uncontrollable urge that makes me scream and shout.”
Traffic was getting interminable, and when it looked like I was about 20 minutes away, I noticed that Darren was still right in front of me. I lit one of the joints that Miles gave me and rolled down the window. It had been a while since I had gone to a place like this, and the coolest of the cool 20-somethings would be thick as the morning fog, rolling in around me to consume every table, chair and inch of the bar like plague rats. It was probably a good idea for me to build up a bit of a bubble around me, to steel myself for this experience.
As I finally got to the Shanghai Tunnel, there was absolutely no parking anywhere in the vicinity. I stubbed out the joint, and drove for another 15 minutes looking for parking quite a ways away. I grabbed my bag, locked the truck, and began walking slowly toward the bar. It was a pleasant night, dark and breezy, but not cold. There were plenty of young people out, wandering to this place or that place, the city alive with activity and booze. You could feel people dancing here or cheering there. Movies and bands and performers of every variety all vied for a few precious hours of your time to offer you a moment of joy and excitement amid the long days of abject boredom and discomfort.
The Shanghai Tunnel began life as a small room, with an inexplicable kitchen a floor beneath. The name was no joke; the kitchen had been built into the actual shanghai tunnels that criss-crossed the underbelly of the city, actually used by pirates and sailors in the old days to get cargo and people back and forth between the docks and the entertainment district. Every imaginable story you can think of really did happen in those tunnels, and in some parts of the city, still do. Over the years, the owners dug out more of the tunnel that surrounded the kitchen, until they carved out another bar, then another side room, then a third, etc. These days, the place is a rabbit’s warren of activity and degenerate behavior, and with so much space, it is hard for even the bartenders and staff to keep an eye on everything. It was a good place to know about if you wanted to score drugs, make connections, or have a one-night stand, and while the cool kids like to think that they can hang out in a “dangerous” bar just like everyone else, the very real dangers that are reputed to happen are actually going to a Gun Club soundtrack.
As I got closer, I slowed down and rolled a cigarette. I decided to hang back and finish the smoke, and let the night air soak into my hat and clothes before springing it on her. Sam was no idiot, and she was reading me as much as I, her, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she already knew I wasn’t Marcus Little, and probably a lot more. It would be odd, in fact, if she hadn’t already pieced it together. It was possible that she was getting ready to ply me for something she was trying to figure out, and I decided long ago that I would hold fast to my cover as an earnest Mission of Burma fan, which was not at all difficult to feign. For all I knew, she was going to ambush me, and as I considered this, I saw Darren walk right into The Tunnel, too. Astounding. No matter how much I was trying, the case wouldn’t let me STOP working on it.
The Shanghai Tunnel, as you approach it, has a walled off outdoor patio, with lighting and tables for those who cannot consider the idea of drinking without a cigarette. An upstairs bar was being manned by a woman I knew from another lifetime ago, a tall and powerful looking person with hair and tattoos that spoke of how much you should not fuck with her, and I remember our time together being intimidating and a bit wild, which was exactly as advertized by what she projected. She hadn’t made me yet, but I was certainly going to have to make sure I don’t slight her by pretending I hadn’t noticed she was there.
Beyond the upstairs bar are a pair of restrooms, and on the right is a staircase that descends to where the kitchen and the rest of the place spread out from. A second bar was there to accommodate the further drunks that you found spread out through the Tunnel. I could see Darren perched at an outside table, but looking at the door into the Tunnel, not exactly a fool when it comes his job, but certainly made him a poor tail, for sure. The only other way into the bar was through an employee service entrance, and as confident as I was that I could probably bluff my way through it again, I knew that it wasn’t worth it to blow my wad on taking a risk this early in the evening.
I pulled out an index card traced its outline while muttering the words to “Hangin’ On The Telephone,” and when it began to shimmer like a Cell Phone screen, I clipped a $20 to it, tapped the card with my phone, and floated it to Carla, the bartender. It moved slowly toward her as I furiously typed away on my own phone, and when it was close enough to her, I moved my arm down slowly, so it would land on her bar. It wasn’t much longer before she noticed it, the money, and the message I’d just furiously hammered out on the screen:
“How much more for you to bounce the bearded kid out front? – Dex.”
Carla looked up and glanced around, until she noticed me poking my head out around the corner, waving in her direction. She glanced around until she made Darren, wrinkled her nose, then typed out, “I’ll buy you a drink provided you don’t want anything.”
I smiled. She pocketed the money, and set the card on the bar, which shifted back to its normal form. Carla walked over to the bouncer, whispered something in his ear, and returned to her station. The bouncer has a large and intimidating man who seemed to only to frown. While I could not hear the exchange between Darren and this man, I could imagine it quite well, and before long the bouncer had his hands on Darren’s shoulder, urging him to get up and leave with all speed. I made eye contact with Carla, and when Darren was finally gone, I waltzed in and took a seat at her bar.
I slapped a $20 on the bar and said, “Make it a good shot of bourbon, please.”
“No problem,” and she poured out a very healthy shot. “Now, do I let you keep this, or are you here on business?”
“Pleasure, but while I’m here…”
She snatched the other $20 and said, “Jesus, you never give up.”
“It’s not what is seems like.”
“You’re lucky I’m not busy and I enjoyed ruining that hipster’s night.”
“I’m also lucky that you’re a beautiful woman who never saw fit to give me what I really deserved.”
“Ah, Dex, it’s like you sort of grew up, but still don’t get it, do you?” She patted me on the head, and smiled. “I was such a sucker for your magic.”
“And I was lucky that you didn’t break my arm like you threatened.”
“You were a horse’s ass, that’s for sure.”
“Compared to your’s it was hard to look like anything but.”
She smiled again. “Okay, you’ve softened me up, but if I don’t like what you’re poking at, I’ll expect bigger tips.”
“You Spin Me Right Round.”
I shrugged. “I’m only just getting to know the place. Good selection.”
Carla winced. “That fuckin’ cunt.”
“So you’re here to meet Sam.”
“And why didn’t you want to be partners with me in this? You were always better at making connections than I was.”
“She’s downstairs,” Carla said, coldly, and turned away from me.
“C’mon,” I said, then sipped my shot. “It’s not like that.”
“It is like that. I saw how she was dressed.”
“What about Miles?”
“Why do you want to know about him?”
I shrugged again. “He’s like a father to me.”
Carla narrowed her eyes. “So it’s like that, is it?”
“Well, until I can figure out what’s really going on.”
Carla laughed. “And that’s why Darren…”
“What? Do you know something?”
“No, no. I just thought you were in the Detective business, not trying to climb the pretentiousness ladder.”
I smiled, and pulled out the Mission Of Burma tape. “Hey, climbing has its perks.”
Carla saw the name on the tape and bristled. “Little? Oh shit, you are in deep.”
“Excuse me? Who is he? What’s going on here?”
Carla glanced around, then looked me dead in the eyes, “I don’t know much, and I shouldn’t even be telling you this much, but I can say: Little is trouble. Gang shit, from what I hear. Often just a delivery man, but I suspect that he might be more.”
I raised an eyebrow, drained the glass, and tapped the side of it, into which she poured more as we continued. “I see. And yet, he shops at You Spin Me Right Round?”
“Have you met Angie yet?”
“Dig Your Grave?”
Carla tapped the side of her nose. “I saw her here once, and Zorn said she was waiting for a Little. He didn’t show. She split. Not much to go on, but we suspect they’re chummy.”
I sipped reflectively. “I was starting to wonder if Little was real, or something I made up.”
Carla laughed. “Maybe a little of each, from the sounds of it.”
I produced another index card and began writing. “It’s funny, you don’t own me shit, and yet you’re perfectly straight with me. It could be Darren having this conversation with you, and me snooping around the staff entrance looking for another way in. What gives?”
She looked me up and down, and said, “No way I’d let that fuckstain talk to me. I have some… fond memories of you, even if you were a pussy” and her bedroom eyes landed on me in a way I hadn’t felt in a long time. I looked at her for a moment.
“Yeah, those were great times that I wouldn’t mind living again.”
“Fuck off. When you’re ready to drop everything and go to Machu Pichu with me, we can consider it.”