......I'm playing pinball in Tribe's Tavern when she sneaks up on me.
......Tribe's is just another
of those faceless bars that dot Toledo like chickenpox. Nobody
even knows why it's called Tribe's.
......"I hear you're an
......I don't look up. I'm in
the middle of what could be a wham bam flipper job. The kind
where you save the ball from going through, slap it to the top
of the table, and score a shitload of bonus points. I used to
be able to get laid with moves like that.
......This time the ball slides
through my flipper action.
......"Shit," I slap
the glass and tilt the machine.
......"Stop hitting the
fucking machine," Martha the barmaid yells.
......The kneeling Playboy bunny
urges me to pop another quarter into her. Instead, I drain the
rest of my Miller and light a Marlboro. "Who wants to know?"
......"You don't look like
a private investigator. I don't know if you look like one of
those UAW working stiffs from the Jeep plant or one of those
guys who spends their life going to college. Whatever. You're
just not what I had in mind."
......"Sorry to disappoint
you." I put my bifocals on, sweep the long hair out of my
face and turn toward the TV hanging from the ceiling. "What's
the score?" I ask Martha.
......"The White Sox are
up three to two, bottom of the ninth, Vizquel's up..."
she snarls at me. Vizquel taps a weak grounder to the pitcher.
......I look back at the girl.
She's wearing tight jeans and a black Metallica T-shirt. She
doesn't look old enough to be drinking that Bud. I smell a fake
......"What? You expected
fucking Humphrey Bogart?" I turn to pop another quarter
into the pinball table.
......With a wave of a hand I
dismiss her. "I don't have time for this, kid."
......I feel her blue eyes on
the back of my neck. "I've been watching you tonight. All's
you've been doing is playing pinball, working that big crossword
puzzle or reading. Who reads in a bar?"
......"I do, kid."
......"If you were really
interested in what you're reading, you'd go someplace quiet.
The way I see it, everything you're doing here is a waste of
time. Why not waste some of it on me?"
......She uses that goddamn tone.
The one that has the right amount of sincere desperation.
......Alomar smacks a liner to
right for a single. I pump a fist in the air. Then I feel embarassed
about my celebration. I can't ignore her.
......She follows me to the table.
She goes to set her beer down on my dog-eared copy of Guy Debord's
"Society of the Spectacle." I pull it away from under
the bottle. Instead of saving the book, I end up spilling the
beer all over it and the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle
that I've been working on all week.
......She tells me her name is
Dawn. She lies to me about her age. "Spare me, kid. What
do you want from me?"
......"Martha told me you
could help me."
......"She did, huh?"
......Dawn nods at me. She's
pretty the way poor white girls sometimes are at last call.
......"It's my sister."
......"If she's missing,
call the cops. It's cheaper than using me."
......"She's not missing.
She hasn't disappeared. I know where she is."
......I watch Manny Ramirez strike
out while Alomar steals second. "If she's not missing there's
nothing for me to do, kid," I collect my soggy book and
get up from the table.
......"She's being held."
......"Kid, all the more
reason you don't need me. You need muscle. Look at me, do I look
like I can bust in somewhere and kick ass?" Her look tells
me she agrees.
......She tries to tell me anyway.
Jim Thome strikes out swinging to end the game.
......"You have a good night,
kid. I can't help you."
......I unlock the maroon Buick
Century. It doesn't look like much. It's not much. It reeks of
cigarette smoke, the stuffing's coming out of the front seat
and when it rains my feet get soaked from the hole in the floor.
A client looking for her deadbeat husband gave it to me as payment.
The CD player is worth more than the car.
......I sit on the cigarette-burned
printout of Fredric Jameson's "On Raymond Chandler"
and light a Marlboro. The alternator belt squeals as I turn the
car on. I don't move though. I sit and listen absent-mindedly
to the Indians' post-game show.
......Poor kid, I think to myself.
She probably lives in one of those ugly little houses off Telegraph
Road in the North End. To folks in the North End, Fredric Jameson
is the guy who owns Jameson Stereo.
......If a woman can't get a
job at one of the auto plants or at General Mills, there isn't
much else for her to look forward to. Not when you're from that
part of town.
......Unless, of course, she's
stacked. Then maybe she can wait tables at Hooters or dance nude.
If not that, there's always clerk jobs at the porn shops that
cater to the autoworkers.
......Poor Dawn isn't stacked.
......I'm sick of listening to
the Indians commentary. I'm sick of thinking about Dawn. I'm
sick of this pit of a town. Not sick enough of it to leave though.
......The Century's bald tires
spray gravel as I do a U-turn in the parking lot. Then I brake
......Dawn is standing between
......"This needs an oil
change," she said, "it could also use a tune-up."
......"Thanks for the tip.
C'mon, I told you I can't help you."
......"Then don't, okay?
Just hear me out."
......I give her an exasperated
......"Get in. I live out
on Sylvania Avenue, near Five Point. I'll drive you back."
......Why are you here, kid,
I'm thinking. 'Cause you invited her in, you idiot. You could
have just let it go. You could have just gone home and finished
Debord. But no, you had to go and feel sorry for her.
......I click the CD player on
and sing along with it. It's one of those obscure British pop
bands that no one's ever heard of around here. I can be such
......Dawn paws through the CDs
laying on the floor. She shows me the Lucinda Williams one. "Can
you play this?"
......I'm not in the mood for
songs about broken hearts and gravel roads right now. I've already
pitied myself for weeks now. I turn off the car stereo all together.
......The rest of the drive is
silent as a morphine buzz.
......When we walk into the apartment,
Dawn knocks over a stack of books. She picks up one of them-something
by Foucault--and asks what it's about. "It's about
power. He writes about how people and institutions sort of achieve
some level of coexistence within a power structure."
......"You lost me."
......"Well, for example,
you know how psychiatry separates people into sane and insane?
There's power at work there, it's the power that language has
. . . .
......It's over both of our heads.
I'm grateful she doesn't understand that I'm making a fool of
myself. I go to the fridge and opt for coexisting with the power
......She browses through the
stacks: books, magazines, CDs, videos, DVDs, Indians media guides.
She examines my framed Class A private investigator's license.
......"A license and everything.
You actually see people here? In your living room?"
......"I'm seeing you here,
......I pick up the portable
CD player and lead her to the roof. I light a cigarette and turn
the music on low. "Okay, Dawn. What's your story?"
......Dawn looks out in the direction
of I-75. "It's my sister Darla. I saw her in a movie."
......I already know what kind
of movie it is. I'm positive that Katie Holmes isn't Dawn's sister.
There aren't any other people from Toledo making mass market
movies at the moment.
......Still, it's important to
me to hear her say the words.
......Darla is almost twenty.
According to Dawn, Darla is being all that she can be in Toledo's
fledgling porn industry. She lives in the South End with some
Mexican guy, one Geronimo Cortijo. They live on South Street,
near the Anthony Wayne Trail.
......The South End is sort of
like the North End, but with more Mexicans. A lot
......"How do you know Darla
is being held against her will?" Dawn gives me denial. Darla
would never do that. Darla is a good girl. Darla has so much
going for her.
......Sure. Darla just happened
to fall face first in a naked man's crotch.
......Dawn tells me about the
last time she saw Darla. She went to the house on South Street.
Darla told her that everything was fine, that she had everything
she could want. Darla said the porn was nothing serious. She
was just having fun.
......Dawn starts crying. "She
looked fine. But she was holding something back, I know she was.
She smiled a smile at me that I'd never seen before. I know she's
keeping something from me."
......"Some people want
that, Dawn. Everyone wants to be something, something that can
make him or her stand out. People don't like blending into the
woodwork, they're afraid of being ordinary." I open another
beer. "You have to realize that just maybe Darla wants to
be doing what she does."
......Dawn sniffles and finishes
her beer. She walks to the edge of the roof and looks at the
lights of Toledo glowing in the distance. It looks like
Sarajevo must have looked during the war.
......"If that's what she
wants, you'll have to let it go, Dawn. I'm not promising anything."
......She nods. I take a deep
breath and walk over to her. "I'm not a good investigator,
Dawn. I do simple jobs. I spy on cheating husbands and
deadbeat fathers, I repossess cars, and I even do security detail
on construction projects. The work I do let's me make a living.
But it doesn't live with me."
......I'm lying. Even simple
car repos get to me. My mind wanders to the black guy standing
on the sidewalk in his underwear, a little boy looking through
the window. "Man, I've been laid off. I just need some time
to come up with the money"
......Stuff like that.
......I toss a cigarette butt
over the roof. I watch it tumble in a trail of sparks.
......"Listen, kid. I didn't
want to hear about any of this because I was afraid that I'd
end up helping you. Which is what I'm going to do."
......Dawn takes my hand. "Thanks.
I can make payments."
......"I didn't want to
help you 'cause I was afraid it would be somethingwell, something
bad like this. I just had that feeling."
......"Martha told me not
to worry if you didn't want to listen to me. She said you'd end
up helping me. She told me to act like I had read a lot and stuff.
Something like that would have impressed you and then."
......I cut her off. "Don't.
I'm a softie for a good kid."
......"You know, I'm not
a kid." She smiles for the first time tonight. "I'll
be nineteen in October."
......"Good for you, kid.
C'mon, I'll drive you back home."
......"I wish I weren't
......Dawn wakes me up the next
morning to tell me the phone is ringing. Her pink, skinny body
disappears under the sheets. It's Farrar from the security agency.
He reminds me it's almost ten and I haven't shown up for security
......"We went over this
last week. The Building Trades are picketing that scab condominium
project. I've told you again and again, I don't do security on
non-union projects. You lied to me when you told me about the
job." I slam the phone down.
......I tell Dawn to wait for
me if she wants. She says she wants to.
......I don't like the fact that
she accepts. It's an old habit of mine, offering something that
I hope is turned down. I get pissed when those half-assed offers
......My four ex-wives can vouch
......After a breakfast of coffee
and cigarettes, I drive to the Westgate strip mall, pick up The
Cleveland Plain Dealer, make it a point of ignoring The
Toledo Blade and park near the arcade. It's supposed to be
a secret that there's a porn studio in there.
......Are things still secret
if you can find them with little or no effort? Or are secrets
only things that you never know?
......The Westgate mall is only
yards away from the super-rich Ottawa Hills Village, an enclave
carved out of Toledo. It's so exclusive that its cops have been
known to even harass white people.
......I scan the American League
standings and glance up to see handsome, thin women in their
late thirties and early forties go in and out of the wine shop.
They walk past the front of the studio, unaware that they are
only feet away from more semen than they could possibly imagine.
......Finally, I see him. Jessie
Moses is carrying a black duffel bag. His white gut peeks out
from the bottom of his T-shirt, looking like ripe afterbirth.
......After he enters the studio,
I walk over and rap on the glass door. The door and storefront
windows are covered with mirrored adhesive. I know he can see
me through it. He doesn't open. I slap repeatedly with my open
palm on the glass.
talking loud enough that a skinny, tanned lady and her blonde
little girl look at me, "open up." I'm getting pissed
off - the shit is avoiding me.
......"Okay, you don't have
to open then, Jessie. I can talk to you from out here,
if that's how you'd rather do it. Tell me, is it anal action
or strictly gangbang today?" I yell out the later.
......The tanned thin blonde
with a rock the size of a small ice cube on her finger scurries
away with her daughter in tow. Jessie opens in a hurry. He pulls
my arm and I'm in.
......We exchange greetings.
"What the fuck do you want from me?" he smiles. The
carpet is sticky. I make sure I don't touch anything.
......I tell Jessie I'm looking
for a missing girl and show him the school picture Dawn
gave me this morning. He knows her. Jessie describes how fine,
hot and talented Darla is. He's about to go into her specialties
when I cut him off and ask him about Cortijo.
......He opens a file cabinet
and pulls out some glossy photographs. Darla's orifices are not
only on display, they're being penetrated. Savagely. Jessie points
out that the tattooed penetrator is Cortijo.
......Darla has a mad, depraved
smile in Jessie's pictures. I wonder if she knew she had a smile
like that in her when she sat for the picture that Dawn gave
......Jessie admires some of
the pictures. "Look at that," he drools, "and
she loves it, man. You want to see the rest of this shoot? It
......"No, Jessie. Thanks
anyway. What's Cortijo like?"
......The word is that Cortijo
is a longtime heroin dealer. He's been a star dealer for about
five years now. He finances these cheap self-produced porn operas
with whoever his current girl happens to be at the time.
......"You got an address
on any of these 'ladies'?
......"Shit, who keeps track?
Gash is gash. They come, they go." Jessie smirks at his
own wit. "After a while, the girls don't show up anymore
and Cortijo has a new one."
......"What do you think
happens to them, Jessie?"
......"I don't know, and
I don't want to know. I've heard rumors though."
Jessie turns solemn on me. "Let it go, man."
......As I drive back to the
apartment, I know I'm not about to let it go. I'll never be able
to forget that smile.
......Dawn cries when I tell
her what I've found out. I'm pissed at Darla. I'm pissed at her
......So, I get my gun. "I'm
going out there."
......"No. We're going out
......"I don't think so,
kid. Not on my watch."
......"I'll go there if
I have to walk there."
......I know she would.
...... "Okay. Let's take
a trip to the South End."
......We take the long way there.
I don't have a plan. I need time to think of something.
......Nothing comes to me.
......Nothing that makes sense,
......It's still early. Odds
are Darla is home. Odds are Cortijo is likely to be home too.
It's been my experience that sex and drugs take to the night,
like a virus takes to its host.
......We drive up Broadway. Tangles
of Mexicans sit on rotting porches. A mural of the Virgin of
Guadalupe looms next to a tortilleria.
......Once we're on South, Dawn
points out the rundown house on the corner to me. A gas
station and a bowling alley are across the street from it, a
fire station next to it. I pull into the bowling alley parking
......"Dawn, you introduce
me as your boyfriend. We're getting married. We want to show
her our new house."
......I put the leather jacket
on over the holstered gun.
......"We need an excuse
to get her out into the car." I take Dawn's arm. "You
understand me?" She nods.
......We're not even up the porch
steps when Cortijo opens the door.
......He has one of those thin
little Errol Flynn mustaches that have always bugged me. A black
hairnet is pasted to his head. He has the traditional tattooed
teardrops that reek of hard time. Across his hairless chest there
is a leering Virgin of Guadalupe.
......Over her head, curving
like a halo, the words: DIME TUS SECRETOS.
......You piece of shit, I think.
......Dawn speaks up. "Hi.
I'm Darla's sister and this is my fiancé." She says
"fee-an-cee." Good girl, I think, good hillbilly accent.
......Cortijo's smile spreads
from ear to ear. His teeth look like vertebrae. "Well, hey
there. I'm your brother-in-law, then. You're cuter than your
pictures." He hugs her, ever so slightly grinding his groin
against her. "Come right in. It's good to have family over."
......He offers me his hand.
I look him straight in his black, souless eyes and nod ever so
slightly. He's no idiot, he catches something in my emotionless
......But it's my secret. People
who've done time can sense when others harbor secrets. It's unnerving
to them. I know it's unnerving to him. He doesn't show it.
......The blinds are drawn in
here. The dainty-looking lace curtains look out of place. Candles
are burning all over the living room like at witches' Sabbath.
......Darla is laying on the
cheap couch. She's wearing cutoff jeans, a bikini top and tracks
on her skinny arms. Even in a heroin fog, she's pretty.
......"Hey, let's celebrate
this here family reunion," Cortijo is barefoot, "how
about shots of tequila? You man enough, ain't you, vato?"
......I just nod.
......His long, thick, yellow
toenails click against the linoleum as he goes toward the kitchen.
......Dawn kneels on the floor
against the couch. "Darla, we're taking you away from here."
She abandons the plan before it even gets started.
......Darla sits up on the couch.
"What gave you the idea that I want to go anywhere?"
......I talk in a whisper. "Listen
to me, you have no fucking clue what you're involved in here.
Has Cantinflas here told you about his other girlfriends?"
......"They meant nothing
to him, so he left them. If you two want to stay and chill, great.
If you're gonna be judgmental, get the fuck out." She spits
it out like a cat in heat.
......"Hey, you don't have
a choice." I get up and grab her wrist. "He left them
alright. He left them lifeless."
......"Is there a problem?"
...... It's Cortijo. He's holding
a bottle of tequila. He terrifies me as he smiles like Willem
......Dawn flies at him. He slaps
her harder than I've ever seen anyone slap a woman. She falls
in a heap, knocking over a tray of votive candles.
......I reach into my jacket
and start to pull the gun out. Cortijo doesn't give me the
time. He's younger and meaner. He throws the bottle of tequila
at me. I watch it sail toward me and then I can't see it anymore.
It shatters against my forehead. My bifocals fly away.
......Like a moron, I drop the
......As I stagger, I notice
Darla smiling her secret smile right before she stabs her nails
into my face. She drags them down over my eyes. The tequila is
like iodine on the open scratches she leaves. I scream out.
......Darla falls with a thud
against the wall as I push her hard. Cortijo's become a blurry
wraith. He rushes me, but falls face first. Dawn's skinny white
arms are wrapped around his ankles. He kicks at her head, spiking
her face with his toenails like a bantam at a cockfight.
......The lace curtains have
caught fire. The flames zoom up them. The house fills with smoke.
......I kick Cortijo hard in
the head as I move to get Dawn out of here. It only makes him
madder. He grabs my ankle and bites down. I kick him in the stomach.
It's like kicking a brick. But he makes a sound anyway. Like
air out of a balloon.
......"Dawn? Dawn, talk
to me. I can't see you!" I'm frantic.
......The thick smoke is making
me dizzy. I get on my hands and knees. My hand recoils when I
touch Cortijo. He isn't moving.
......A shard of the tequila
bottle is sticking out of his neck.
It's Dawn. She's sitting against the couch. I crawl over and
grab her wrist. Her palm has a deep gash where she pushed the
glass into Cortijo's throat.
......I press down on her palm
and smooth the hair out of her face. "Forget her, Dawn.
I warned you it might be like this." She's shivering like
a crack baby.
......My hair is pulled with
a hard jerk and I fall from my crouch onto my ass. My head bends
back until it won't go any further.
......Darla's kneeling behind
me. Her face is close enough to mine that I can see the flames
reflected in her eyes. She's holding the neck of what's left
of the Jose Cuervo bottle. She raises the glass high in an arc.
......I should punch her in the
face. That would be the end of it. I should know better.
......But I don't even think
of that. Instead, I reach back and pull at her hand. All it does
is pull my head further down exposing my neck.
......"You nosy piece of
shit," Darla leers down at my face.
......"No," Dawn screams,
"let him go!"
......I hear the crack of a gun.
I know it's mine. Darla's face splatters all over me.
......"I said no, Darla."
Dawn's voice is hoarse.
......"Aw, kid," is
all I can manage to say as I crawl toward Dawn.
......She points the gun
......"She had to have her
secrets. Her filthy goddamn secrets. Well, no more!" She
drops to her knees by Darla's body. "You poor, stupid girl."
Dawn takes Darla's hand.
......"Dawn. Give me the
gun." I move to take it. She fires over my head.
......She's bawling. She looks
at me, her face contorted in a silent scream. She shakes her
head as the tears stream down her face.
......"I'm so sorry,"
she whimpers, "forgive me. Both of you."
......The tears stream down her
face. I feel so helpless when she puts the gun in her mouth and
pulls the trigger.
......All I can say is "No,
no, no!" I take her body in my arms.
......The sirens get me out of
it. I take the gun and run to the back of the house. I run away
from this cleansing of secrets.
......I crash through the kitchen
window and land in black bags of garbage. I collect myself as
best I can, and run behind the fire station. I come out a couple
of blocks away.
......The street in front of
the bowling alley is packed with gawkers. I slip unnoticed behind
them and get into the Century.
......I gun it out of there,
scattering the crowd.
......My hands tremble as I steer.
I drive to the middle of the High Level Bridge and stop along
the curb, holding up a lane of traffic behind me. I slide across
the front seat, and get out on the passenger side. I stand there
and look out at the Maumee and then I toss the gun as far as
......I watch the filthy river
flow below me. Through the open door behind me, over the din
of honking cars I hear the end of the song on the CD playing,
the one I played when I brought Dawn to my house.
......"I gave myself to
sin/I gave myself to Providence/And I've been there and back
again/The state that I am in."
Copyright (c) 2000 by Tribe.
in Northern Ohio. He suffers from post-Marxist libidinal disorder.
His fiction has appeared in Plots With Guns and is forthcoming
in Blue Murder, Thunder Sandwich, Mind Kite
and Suspect Thoughts.
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."And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking to a man that likes to talk."
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