Cooking with Arsenic - full third chapter

Chapter 3
I know that there is only one thing I should be focusing on now. I know that. All the possible problems that could arise from the Second Coming as a tactic come down to this – it should not be a long term tactic. I twist one lip upward briefly as my college encounters with existentialism come back to me. Isn’t this the problem with Christianity? It executes a second-coming maneuver, but now the family is asking where he is, the archaeologists are checking the death certificate. Were I executing the second coming, it would be something done at the end, not at the beginning. Yet here we are. God created the world. His son died. What now?
Simultaneously, I can see the sense in executing the second coming at the beginning of maneuvers. The disadvantages of the early second coming also operate as advantages – now is the time of most uncertainty. The movement was just too quick – too quick for me, but too quick for anyone else too. Mr. Hartley has placed the opponents into positions of greater uncertainty before. I just need to move. The second coming is meant to draw out information. Of course, it can backfire – people can go into hiding, but as Mr. Hartley pointed out to me before, when people hear of a killing, they go into hiding sloppily, quickly, and this, too, reveals information. So, here’s the question. Given the information we have now, what is the best course of action? This is the primary principle of the private investigator. Probably the primary principle of anyone. I envy, momentarily, the professors I knew at college. They puttered about, gathering information, and had all the time in the world to do so – and if their results were contradicted, no problem, just publish a paper on what an interesting scientific state that put them in, then move on. That worked well for them, but it would never work for me. In most cases, that would mean no pay. In this case, it could mean someone would die – possibly even many people, many young soldiers. As I am unable to go to war, should I feel responsibility towards them? How best to discharge responsibility? No doubt about it. I was caught, with too little information.
There is a simple solution, however, a strangely simple solution. In this case, what would people expect me to do? As I cannot myself decide what I should be doing, the best course of action is to do whatever people would expect of a young private investigator whose elder partner has just been killed. And so, that is what I will do. There are two things that can be done in that case – go to the office, and try to direct an investigation from there, hoping that yesterday’s John Smith will come in on hands and knees, insisting he had nothing to do with Hartley’s death. Of course, that is not what I would do. I must live as if Hartley died. Eat less. Eat more? Perhaps alternate. More importantly, go straight down Apple Street. Look at the place he was “killed” see if I can find John Smith. See if I can find his wife. Apparently, she has a fairly loose tongue.
And so, I walk towards Apple Street, hands alternating between being in my pockets, and hanging by my sides. I keep my head up. Eyes searching the street for any furtive glances. Sometime after the Apple street nonsense I’ll go visit a few bars. Tongues are loosened there. I’ll go to the seaside bars where sailors, from ensign to Admiral, fall off their ships and do a sea-leg crawl to the closest notorious establishment. Two movements, I already feel better. The streets are bustling now, everyone returning to work. I reach the crossroads with Apple. There is a strange four-way balance here, one quarter of the men wear suits and ties, and I look among them especially for yesterday’s visitor. If I am to catch him it would be best to see him before he sees me – but simultaneously, I watch for sudden movements, of the sort that might indicate him seeing me. Another quarter are the denim and coveralls crowd. Many of them are not in their denims, but it is clear their slacks, shirts, and sometimes suits have not been worn for as much of the day. They are scattered, heading back to the demanding whistles of various labor jobs. Scattered, usually among them, are farmers from North, South, East and West, in the city to sell their various produce, their animals, and their fruits. They are generally still in denim. The last contingent is military, and it, if any, holds a slight majority. It has its own variation, the majority the white and navy town-wear of sailors too soon off the boat to change, or too proud of their military standing to consider it. There are scattered among them the green of the army, and the darker navy hues of the air force as well, in increasingly smaller numbers. I turn onto Apple Street, hoping the location will lend me some insight into the nature of our current investigation.
As I walk down Apple, the bars disappear, and so do the soldiers. I know one thing about Mr. Smith. He knows his location. It’s a more downtrodden area, in which there is not the emptiness of the true ghetto, but still, there are not the attractions here to draw the soldiering clan. That is a few blocks up, where these men send their daughters, when they are old enough, and their sons, if they are handy enough with a bottle, a chef’s knife, or, if they are lucky enough, a microphone. Here, there is training for all these professions, training which will never transition into actual labor. There are butcher’s shops for the kids with chef knives, small shops in which the underage and ugly daughters are waitresses, bars only the local visit, and songs sung in Spanish. Perhaps my friend Mr. Smith was not as smart as I thought. He had no Spanish blood that I could discern, if anything, his vaguely oriental looks would earn him, here, more hatred and animosity than I was subject to, though I absorbed the heat of unwelcome glares with practiced ease. I have, after all, had plenty of practice. There were no doughnut shops here, where Hartley preferred to fall, whether that be to add the touch of the local cops, or as an underlying comment on the fat he saw as replacing his beloved bars. So, where would He have fallen? Not in front of one of the local saloons. A man falling there would attract no attention at all. It was unlikely that even the police had a distinct location on his so-called demise. The few ambulances that flit as quickly as possible through this section of town do not keep distinct records, and even if they did, location is difficult to track in a slum – things are always being moved by someone. Some years ago, I read an article about new street signs in one of these neighborhoods. They had been stolen and moved around so quickly that more than one tourist found themselves quickly lost, even in danger, and many of the signs became no more than private decoration. Tourists knew a street without signs was not a street on which they should travel.
The heat began to become oppressive; walking mid-day in Los Angeles is hardly recommendable, even in the dead of winter. I took off my coat, walking with it slung over one shoulder. Even this slight step from the norm more deeply ingratiated me with the populace, my alien presence softened by some casual movements I had picked up, and by the presence of remnants of the Irish in the slums. If certain private eyes wandered into this part of the city, they might be robbed, even killed, marked as under-cover policemen, the slum’s juiciest target. The undercover policeman carries large amounts of cash for cease of movement, and will rarely report a robbery, for fear of making obvious their delicate position. Fortunately for me, one of McAven, Hartley, and Miller’s advantages lay in the work it has done on both sides of the so-called law. Many people, on both sides of this mad game of cops and robbers, forget that the police are not the law, but rather the judges, juries, and codes of the state and nation in which they live, and, in order to keep the law, it is sometimes – sometimes, necessary to go behind the back of those who think of themselves as the law.
This brief and egoistical reverie of democracy brought me to a point likely to be that chosen by Hartley. It fulfilled all of my inclinations, it was near the end of Apple Street, which dove off an uncompleted bridge over some minor runoff, and behind it spread out the brown and khaki that the west and southern United States chose as a replacement for nature. Here the drama could be fulfilled by the audience – Mr. Smith and his partner, hiding at the end of Apple Street, could see clearly Hartley go down. After a brief search, I found upon the ground a dark red splotch on the concrete that confirmed my suspicions. It is in front of a closed vegetable stand, next to a one way side street only too convenient for the Ambulance.
A scraping noise interrupts my reverie. There’s an old Irishman, in vest and trousers, dragging a chair toward the middle of the street. Before this, the street was abandoned, and the man, with a few white scraps of chin-hair worming and twisting above and below his lips, drags the chair directly to the middle of the street, sits on it, and regards me with gray eyes. I suppose this close to the ragged, unfinished end of Apple Street, it almost makes sense. He could have been sitting there last night. He could sit there every day, as his mad fancy takes him. He’s looking around, as if he doesn’t see me, then he looks again bullet-straight at me. He smiles. He leans on the rugged, dark-stained cane he holds in his hands, and smiles.
“Quite a pickle.” He says, his voice thick with accent.
“A pickle. Quite a pickle. You know, stored in brine. Sour. Plump with the salt-sea juices.” His lips slurp, sucking down an imaginary slice of pickle. “In this case, metaphorical, of course. He fell as if shot from behind.”
The man’s arms and chest, visible round the edges of the vest, lead me to believe he would know how a man looks when shot from many directions. I’d trust him more if Hartley were “killed” by knife.
“How do you know what I’m looking for?”
“Don’t ruin the mystery, man.” He says. “Though I suppose that’s what you private detectives are for, isn’t it now? To give you a hint, no stranger stops in the middle of this neighborhood to study the sidewalk. No one round here drops diamond rings or hundred dollar bills, and I know everyone around here. Does that make it clear enough for you, or will you have to investigate for yourself?”
“Did you see him fall?”
“Did I see him fall? I was sitting right here, wasn’t I?”
“Were you?”
“I was, I’ll have you know. Don’t disrespect me.”
“I didn’t mean any disrespect.”
He laughed. I paused. This was the strangest encounter I’d had in a while. I was saddened to find myself unprepared for it.
“Now, is there anything else you’d be wanting to know, or can I go back to smoking my pipe?”
“Do you know a John Smith?”
“John Smith, I know a lot of John Smiths. You don’t have time to meet all the John Smiths I know. John Smiths, and John Does, that’s the only people I know.”
“Anyone else in this neighborhood see anything?”
“No one in this neighborhood sees nothing. I’m the only one sees anything. I am the surrogate eyes of the world. They pluck them out, give them to me.”
The man was mad, but metaphorical. I had no doubt that the people around here would have nothing to say – besides that the existence of some secret government killer was pure myth, invented by the oh-so-professional private eyes. Just one more question, for my amusement, and to lend some quantum of solace and plain explanation to this mad conversation.
“You come to Hollywood to act then?”
“Me? I was born acting. I’ll give you to know, true actors never appear on screen, not when they’re born acting. They that are born acting want to see. They that have to learn want to be seen.”
“Wise words.”
“Hidden thoughts. Go with God.” And, as if I had spoken a password, effective, though unknown to me, he was gone. He stuck a pipe in his mouth, and lit the pipe, and proceeded to blow smoke out through his nose, his lips shut tight like those of a determined child. His arms were crossed. I know our conversation was over, and I felt like he would not speak again for that whole day. This was enough, I supposed, any tail must have tired of this conversation by now, and would understand if I pursued the neighborhood no farther. Any nearby rooftop or room could house the marks of the killer’s rifle, it was pointless to search those.
Quietly, I turned, and began to walk back down Apple street, my coat still thrown over my shoulder. Magically, the tone of the whole street had changed, and I was met with something like acceptance by the people as I walked by, as if my conversation with the mad Irishman had somehow washed from me the stench of the rich city boy I was. No doubt that stench was deep inside me, and would soon exude from my skin again. I rejoined the four way flow of man at the intersection, since deeply quieted. The lunch hour was not yet over, but a few early returners to their desks were walking my way, down towards the docks, and toward my office, and the subtle but infective aromas of the white collar world. A few taxis passed me by, and I could not notice how old and rare the taxi drivers seemed to be, since the disappearance of so many young men to war. Perhaps they would come back, and fill those taxis again soon. I wanted to walk, to clear my mind, to focus on what to do next. A few bars? I needed to find out more about this Admiral. There was no alternative. I would have to find John Smith. I thought his first name was John, the Smith a definite forgery – perhaps intentional to cover up the unrehearsed dropping of his first name. I did not put my jacket back on until I had walked all the way up the stairs of the building, enduring the looks of prim secretaries, lunching at their desks with the doors wide open, and looking out at the stairs. In front of my office, I breathed deep, and dove back into the wooly warmth. Stepping through the door, I met my favorite unabashed glare.
“There’s a mister Smith to see you.” Mrs. Tummley said. She was always more cranky when Mr. Hartley was gone. I turned towards the seats which waited to one side, and there, sitting, looking even more nervous than yesterday, was John Smith.

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