Morning Punk

The donuts, fresh fry in deep fat, dusted for sugar and sprinkled for cinnamon, grease the baking paper lining the cardboard box, stain the tissue transparent. Dana broke the string and opened the case in the parking lot, rest his steaming coffee on the United States mailbox shining in the morning sun. He pulled out a raspberry jam, jam the confection entire down his mouth, chew with his throat while the kid in the front seat of his car watched him in awe.

‘Good,’ Dana thought, ‘gotta learn ‘em early.’ He coughed, a gust of sugar smoke visible in the air before he wiped his mouth, tightened his black tie and straightened his hat, grab up his coffee and jump behind the wheel.

He turned to the rookie beside him: “Let’s do it.”

*                           *                            *

“Part of the policeman’s job is to make promises he can’t keep:

‘We’ll find your wife and daughter.’

‘Your husband will be back in the morning.’

‘Most missing kids turn up safe and sound.’

Dana shake his head. “Most missing kids turn up inside out. There is no safe and sound.”

Eugene Stone, the rookie cop beside him, nodded. Nodded as if he understood.

Detective Dana Cable, he liked this, he liked breaking the kids in… it brought out the beat poet in him, the only chance he got to talk tough, like the cops in the dime-store paperbacks. The kids needed to hear it anyway. The two men drove through town, headed toward the border. Dana let his hard boil boil over.

“Promises you can’t keep… it sounds nicer than lies. Because that’s what they are: ice cold, liquid lies, like a punch to the gut in the dark, like a knife in the night, like never knowing who put out your candle or why. That’s what you gotta learn, kid. Fifty percent of the job is lies, saying what you have to say to get the body over the blow. Someone is dead, someone is always dead, and it’s your job to lie to their loved ones. Time and drink take the victim’s family the rest of the way home.

“The family are the true victims.”

Geno nodded again, uniform of cool blue, marinating in the bright of black and white.

“Now the other fifty percent of the job…” Dana pulled the car to a stop slow, suddenly stop talking, and not just because of the red light. The Ford idled big like a quarter horse waiting at the gate, and Dana took this moment to cast his gaze into the front seat, at the young recruit sit beside him, this Geno Stone, his schoolboy haircut and a head full of picture shows. He caught the kid off-guard because that’s how he wanted to catch him, to see the look in his eyes before he could steel himself. Stone looked back at him: he was a kid. He wanted to be a hero. Right now he was naked… afraid.

Good. The fear just might keep him alive.

Geno spotted Dana watching and his eyes got hard again, made cowboy, just in time for the light go green.

The car was Dana’s unmarked cruiser, full with the AM aroma of black coffee and brand-new bright color donuts, full of jams and jellies and frosting and lard and enough sprinkles to make Liberace blush. The sugar and caffeine were full of the vitamins needed to do the work. The trick was keeping it down.

“The other fifty percent of the job is… jazz you don’t learn in the academy. Footwork. Logic. Heart. You can beat a confession out of a guilty man. The innocent will strike you back. And only the guilty fall asleep.”

Dana, feeling especially fine today, feeling the clean of his colon after the clockwork of his morning movement, the aftertaste of the fresh coffee made sweeter with every drag he took on his Lucky.

The kid Geno, his head beneath the surface of the water, paddling, doing his best to keep afloat, grab his pad out his shirt pocket and begin taking notes directly. He knew this was a clinic, a lesson special.

Dana let the kid catch his breath. He was almost out of words, knew he was laying it on heavy but he loved talking punk. He thought: ‘Maybe I have a head full of picture shows too.’

“You think you can handle homicide?”

Geno look out the front window, staring far away, and Dana had to turn his head from the road twice while he was waiting for Geno’s answer.

The kid exhaled, a confession: “Yeah.”

Geno was five months and nineteen days out of the academy, write his fair share of traffic tickets to drunks fall asleep in the crosswalk, made his application for homicide loud and clear by making an appointment with the Chief of Police, showing up without approval and waiting to be seen. When he finally got inside he shook the Chief’s hand and volunteered his services.

The kid had balls.

He was ready for something bigger and better, something more filthy and true, tired of patrolling the Pacific Coast highways. This trip was a trial. This morning was a test.

Dana took a chance. “We are the only ones out there. We are the only ones fighting for the good.”

The car bumped, off-road.

Geno was still staring straight ahead. “Do you believe in God?”

Dana crawled the black Ford into the dirt of the roadhouse parking lot.

“Come on… we’re here.”

*                           *                            *

The building was tired- popsicle sticks and school glue- and the bar was dusty and dim, just two small windows to welcome the sun. Geno walked, a step behind Dana, and wondered what kind of person would come to drink at such a sad watering hole on the Arizona border. Truck drivers and assholes, probably. The cops on the scene recognized Cable, gave him a funeral hello and went back to their gathering of evidence. Geno felt invisible to the other officers.

The boy followed Dana, into the tavern, past the pool table with the threadbare felt, not knowing where this tough detective was taking him, doing his best to look like he had done this before, and he suddenly found himself wishing he was back on the freeway watching for speeders. He was suddenly afraid of what was inside. Geno smelled something in the air in this place… it was more than the old dry wood, more than the beer and urine embedded into the floorboards. It was something else… it was the opposite of perfume.

Dana didn’t say a word. There were none to be spoken now. It was time to break the kid’s cherry.

The bar was in bad shape- a couple of overturned stools- a glass pane above the bar shattered by a bullet- but the scene was less horrific than Geno had pictured. He suddenly felt his heart beating, felt a rush of dizzy as Dana stepped away and said hello to a tall man in the center of the room. Geno recognized him: the head of homicide Lloyd Maholm. The two of them were whispering back and forth and at first Geno figured that he just couldn’t hear them. Then, listening more closely, he realized he could hear them just fine: the sounds out of their mouths, the voices from their throats, they were not English or any other language he had heard before. They were inhaling their words, speaking in some sort of babble, a slow language Geno didn’t know. How was that possible?

Dana lower his head and walk away as Lloyd turned to face Geno, to take him the rest of the way. Geno looked into the face of the head detective, white coiled hair that had once been blonde, long narrow face with thin cheekbones, eyes without color. His skin was sand-stormed and weatherworn, his mouth was sealed in a quiet snarl, and suddenly Geno wanted his Mother to come and get him.

Lloyd took the boy in, eyes locked him easy like a handcuff, and he gave no sign of what he saw inside. Maholm made Geno think of a mountain. Lloyd raised his left hand to behind the bar and Geno knew, he understood. He had to go back there and look, it was what he had to do, and he accepted his fate honest and easy, cross to the center of the bar, the buttons on his uniform cuff make clang against the brass rail as he stepped behind, as he crossed through. And when he was on the other side he looked down.

And he could see.

The barkeeper’s body had been mutilated: glass bottles had been beaten into his head, breaking skin and scalp, shattering and soaking the wounds in sour spirits, exposing skull. The blood which covered the man had gone dry and magenta, and the boy Geno got his first look at the human brain. No thinking. The man’s mouth had been sliced up to his ear, unzipping his face like a bowling bag, a row of white teeth up the side of his head in a smile unholy. Two slugs had been planted in the old man’s throat, and his stomach had been slashed wide open, his organs hanging generous and open like a bowl of fruit. The gentleman who had committed this atrocity had sawed the bartender’s hands clean off, leaving vicious stumps of gnarled meat on which the flies had already begun to feast like T-bone. The bartender’s eyes were wide open, and it wasn’t the hollow of their gaze that pushed Geno over the edge- it was the fact that they were looking in two different directions, like a comic character from the funnies dazed by a hammer blow to the head.

But this man was not dazed. This man was dead. And in his own pleasant way he looked up at the boy Geno and said, “Hello.”

Maholm looked away, let the boy face it in private, and Geno felt the vomit rush up like a breaking dam. Somewhere inside he knew he couldn’t, could not make upchuck. He held his mouth so tight that he caught it before it sprayed, swallowing it back down as it came up. He stood there trying to stand. He was shaking. His knees were buckling. A photographer’s flashbulb struck like lightning.

“Hey Maholm!” It was Detective Cable from the back of the bar. Geno exhaled, swallow again, chunks of fresh donut still in his mouth going back down inside, eyes wide and watering.

Dana come up to the stools and stood between the old man and the rookie as Geno tried to steady himself.

Dana was smiling. A smile of rage. He took a breath on his Lucky like it was oxygen itself. His eyes were wild as he turned between Lloyd and the boy. He was amused. He was fury.

“Anybody been in the back room?”

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